We have had a chance to look at the first three games of the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup since the tourney opened Friday night with a barnburner of an opening contest between Saint John and host Mississauga.
The St. Mike's were wearing commemorative sweaters in honor of trooper Marc Diab, a Mississauga resident who was born in Lebanon but moved to Canada when he was a teen. He was killed in action in Afghanistan in March 2009 while serving with the Canadian military. The beautiful game jerseys will be auctioned off for charity after the Memorial Cup concludes.
Two of Saint John's biggest draft stars came through Friday- Jonathan Huberdeau and Nathan Beaulieu. Huberdeau scored a goal when Michael Kirkpatrick put a shot into the net off No. 11's thigh. Not the prettiest goal, but the Dogs will take. Beaulieu scored the game-winner on a controversial play where Zack Phillips was clearly off-side on the play. A shame, because it tainted a very nice play where Beaulieu swooped in to deposit a rebound past a helpless J.P. Anderson. Teams on the lookout for that offensive defenseman have to be putting some serious consideration into Beaulieu, whose production since the second half of the season and playoffs has been outstanding.
Owen Sound thrashed Kootenay on Saturday night to the tune of a 5-0 pasting that saw Jordan Binnington continue his red-hot play since Game 6 of the OHL championship series. Binnington was aggressive, out challenging shooters all night and doing a nice job of controlling rebounds and blockering them away from the front of his net. He showed the same kind of composure and patience that he did late in the Robertson Cup round against Missy, not overcommitting to shots and staying square to the shooter. He's a completely different guy from the shaky, overactive guy we saw against London in the first round way back in late March. He posted 29 saves in the whitewash to get off to a great start.
OHL MVP Robby Mignardi scored a pair of goals including a shortie, while Andrew Fritsch tallied on the power play in the third period.
Nathan Lieuwen did not play all that well. He looked off-balance all night and was playing very deep in his net, which didn't give him much of a margin for error. He can make highlight reel saves at times because of his enormous size and athleticism, but he's still a rough-around-the-edges work in progress in terms of his reads and decision-making. He seemed slow to react and anticipate where the backside pressure was coming from on several goals, caught looking the other way as Owen Sound moved the puck on him at will.
He was better in a 2-1 loss to Mississauga Sunday night, but still scrambles too much for our liking. With his excellent size, less should be more for him. He needs to work on his lateral crease movement and staying square to the shooter a little better. Lieuwen has the size to scramble and still make desperation saves because he's so big and long-limbed, but it's not the preferred method. In the two games of Memorial Cup action so far, mechanics have been his undoing. He's playing with fire by playing so deep in the net. Needs to be more confident in his angles by coming out to cut them down and challenge the shooter/force them to put the puck into his sizeable mass.
We love the raw tools in Lieuwen, but he's getting exposed a bit so far- needs to tighten it up and do the little things to get back to the level he was at in the WHL playoffs.