Ryan Johansen said last week that one of the challenges of being in first place is wearing the bullseye on your back.
You're going to get each opponent's best effort with no questions asked, and the Falcons have had to bring their A-game every night. The shoe is on the other foot tonight as Springfield heads to Portland, where the Pirates have won five straight games and are the hottest teams in the American Hockey League (sound familiar?)
These two clubs have gone at it this season, including an overtime thriller in Portland on Black Friday -- well, the Falcons wouldn't say it was too thrilling, but I digress.
Rewind to that game: Springfield built a 4-1 lead and seemed to be in total control. The Pirates lacked energy and the game had, for a moment, lost its sense of competitiveness. But the game completely tilted on its axis, with the Pirates scoring four straight goals in a span of 6:33 and taking advantage of several Falcons penalties to lead 5-4.
Sean Collins tied the game on a rebound late in the second period, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson needed just seconds of overtime to end the game and send Springfield to a disheartening defeat.
From that point, though, the Falcons played much better hockey and ascended to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They now trail Syracuse by two points for first place, but their consistency has been a marvel.
If there was ever a "knock" on Boone Jenner, some say he could become a more explosive skater. One summer changed that perception.
While his intangibles have always been off the charts and his competitive edge likely unparalleled among his peers, Jenner went into the last offseason looking to become a bit quicker and powerful in his skates, and he's started to see dividends.
The hope was that he could use the added speed to be better on the forecheck and take advantage of mistakes -- and that killer instinct is a big reason why he's the leading goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League. Jenner, 19, is having his most productive offensive season to date, with 27 goals and 47 points in 32 games for the Oshawa Generals.
Next up is the World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia, and it's likely Jenner will be playing an even larger role for Canada than he did a year ago. At last year's tournament, Jenner was mostly a bottom-six guy who killed penalties and saw some occasional ice time on the power play; but with a distinct increase in goal-scoring this year, it will be tough for head coach Steve Spott to leave Jenner out of offensive situations.
Crunch time is quickly approaching for the U.S. national junior team, and Phil Housley knows he has some difficult decisions to make.
Team USA wrapped up its New York practice schedule today before flying to Helsinki, Finland this afternoon. Upon arrival in Finland, the team will play two games before making final cuts to its roster: Thursday against Sweden (12:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday against Finland (6 a.m. ET), with both games being aired live on the NHL Network.
Housley has to like how his forward lines are shaping up; there's a distinct element of skill in the U.S. top six, as well as high-character, high-compete players in the bottom six.
Alex Galchenyuk, recently named the Ontario Hockey League's player of the week, is likely to be the club's No. 1 center and has reportedly played well alongside Miami forward Riley Barber during camp.
Galchenyuk is an electric player and can score highlight reel goals in bunches, and some think he could make the Montreal Canadiens roster once the NHL season begins.
Prior to the opening of USA Hockey's national junior team training camp this week in Tarrytown, N.Y., head coach and American hockey legend Phil Housley spoke to reporters about his expectations for camp and the tournament.
Special thanks to our friends at USAHockey.com for supplying the video footage.
Many people around the game of hockey truly believe the World Junior Hockey Championship is the finest international competition in the sport.
They feel that way for good reason, too; the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has done well in making this an annual tournament that brings the best hockey players in the world under the age of 20 into one place.
Some players have already been drafted by NHL clubs and others are hoping to have their name called in June, but for two winter weeks, they all have one goal: to bring a gold medal home to their country. Hockey Canada began its World Junior preparation last week in Calgary when the team's final roster was announced after a brief camp, and this week in Tarrytown, N.Y. and Finland, the United States team will start to take shape.
While no cuts will be made following practices this week in New York, the plan is for USA Hockey to begin paring down to the final 23 players once things get settled in Finland. Among those considered "on the bubble" for the United States is Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly, a freshman defenseman at the University of Minnesota.
Ryan Johansen's clutch third-period goal may be just the spark Springfield needs to get itself righted this afternoon in Manchester.
Despite the eventual overtime loss -- and the extra sessions have been brutally unkind to the Falcons this season -- there was such a burst of energy from the goal and how it seemingly reversed a frustrating third period in one fell swoop.
Of course, the positives were temporarily erased on a sloppy game-winner, but my read on things was that the Falcons checked another item off their list. They've led a lot of games in the late stages and have engineered some thrilling comebacks in the third period (a couple of them from two goals down or more), but never really scored that big goal with the goaltender on the bench and the fans up out of their seats.
They got it last night, at a time when they desperately needed it.
There's really no way around it: last night wasn't the Falcons' finest effort of the season, nor was it a performance indicative of how well Curtis McElhinney has played to this point.
And in total fairness, I'd say (and I mentioned it on Twitter) that McElhinney is owed a few steak dinners and/or goals in support after all of the occasions in which he's saved his club's collective bacon. See that? Steak and bacon in the same sentence. Now I'm hungry.
Springfield never really got things going at the Dunkin Donuts Center last night, and it's hard to figure out why. They have played well in that building this season, including an earlier 3-0 shutout of the Bruins which was in the Falcons' complete control all the way through the final buzzer.
But this one was different -- very much so -- and I'll be keenly interested to see how they respond tonight at home.
The St. John's IceCaps are in town for tonight's game at the MassMutual Center, and they have to be sick of seeing the Falcons. In the three-game season series, Springfield is 3-0-0 and swept a two-game set last weekend in Newfoundland Labrador.
Cam Atkinson scoring goals isn’t the news item du jour – he’s a regular at lighting the lamp. But it’s his proclivity for doing so at just the right time that has folks excited.
His timeliness has benefited his team, too: the Springfield Falcons hold the Northeast Division lead just beyond the first quarter of the regular season, and have sustained their momentum by sustaining their pace.
They haven't flinched if the ice tilts in the opponents' favor; they instead get back to their system in attempt to take advantage of the next available opportunity. Atkinson has seemed to follow that mold, but that's not surprising to anyone who has followed his career.
He scored goals in buckets at Boston College and has a truckload of important goals to his credit, and he's continued doing so in Springfield.
National junior team selection camps can be the ultimate pressurizer, but John Davidson doesn't think Boone Jenner has much to sweat over.
Hockey Canada is in the process of finalizing its roster for the 2013 World Junior tournament in Russia, and this week, the stakes are raised as the governing body of Canadian hockey makes its first round of cuts. Five players were cut, including Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick (2012) Derrick Pouliot, leaving the camp roster at 31 players.
Twenty-three players in total (13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders) will travel with Team Canada to Ufa, Russia for the tournament, and Jenner is almost certain to be among that group.
It would be his second consecutive year representing Canada at the World Junior, and he proved last year that he can be an impactful player on the world's stage.
"He's a real key ingredient -- a big time ingredient -- for Team Canada, no question," Davidson told BlueJackets.com today. "I think his role will be somewhat similar to what he's played this year with Oshawa. He's a mature player for his age, he's got the experience of having played in this tournament last winter."
"He provides a lot of energy, and which you start to package that all together and look at a short-term tournament, you have to like that."
The 19-year-old defenseman has people around college hockey talking, stepping right into the action for the University of Minnesota as a freshman. He's played both defense and the wing for head coach Don Lucia's club, which has been been one of the best in college hockey so far this season.
Reilly has two goals and eight assists in 17 games for Minnesota while carrying a +5 rating. He scored his first collegiate goal on Nov. 23 against Vermont in a 5-1 win, but his latest tally is worthy of a video highlight.
Though it wasn't the most desirable of results for the Gophers on Saturday night -- Reilly's goal gave them a 4-1 lead that would evaporate into a 4-4 tie -- they took three of four points on the weekend to keep pace in the WCHA.
And before we get to the highlight, let's talk about ties. Why can't we have a final outcome? I saw a tie this weekend between Ohio State and Robert Morris at 84 Lumber Arena in Pittsburgh, and it's such an empty feeling leaving the rink (probably more empty than a loss). *end rant*
Maybe it's just me being too dramatic, which is quite possible. Anyway, enjoy the clip and if you loathe ties as much as I do, let me know in the comments section or send me a tweet @RobMixer.