Sunday’s rematch against the Thunderbirds was just as good as the first tilt. Derek Grant stayed hot registering his 6th goal in 3 games, and Linus Ullmark recorded his first shutout of the year. Even though playoff aspirations are a distant memory, it was nice to see the team play with pride this weekend. Their newfound confidence will certainly be put to the test on Friday when the Comets come to town.
Like Alex Kile, the latest Amerks college prospect, Justin Danforth surpassed expectations. This year Justin finished up his senior year at Sacred Heart with a team high 32 points. Unlike Kile, he seemed more than comfortable with the speed of the game, and in fact he set the pace. Danforth was a wrecking ball in the fore-checking game and was very unlucky to be kept off the score sheet.
Unfortunately, his defensive aggression landed him in the penalty box once, and he was very lucky not to receive a second minor right when he got out. For those two reasons Danforth narrowly avoided my first A of the year. I am going to rate his performance a B+.
Danforth’s Defensive work was the catalyst for his offensive production. He did such an amazing job stripping the puck cleanly that his turnovers became instant offense. There were four main plays that told the story of his night.
The first was generated from pure hustle in the offensive zone. He tracked down a defenseman and trapped him behind the net. He was then able to strip the puck and get into the slot. From there he ripped a nice low shot on the short side above the right pad. Somehow the goalie was barely able to get a blocker on it.
The second came on a turnover at neutral ice. Danforth was able to win a fight for the puck with a crafty stick lift. However, he immediately had pressure in his face. With a backtracking forward quickly closing in on him he slid a backhand pass to Dupuy that split the defenders giving him a breakaway. That kind of grace under pressure was very refreshing to see from a player just starting his professional career.
His intelligence also showed in his third impact play of the night. Late in his shift he busted out to the point, got low, and blocked a shot, giving him a chance at a breakaway. Unfortunately, his fatigue allowed the defender to catch up to him quickly. Instead of taking him on, Danforth skated the puck across the ice to the left wing (drawing another defender in the process) and slung a perfect saucer pass across the slot to a cutting Muzito-Bagenda.
On his final opportunity he flashed a bit of elite skill. After intercepting a pass on the boards he broke into the offensive zone with speed. Danforth then made a sweet stick-handling move to generate space for a shot. He quickly capitalized on his window with a short side wrister in the slot that caught the keeper off guard. Although it was shot through a partial screen, the goalie just managed to get a piece of his stick to it and keep Danforth off the score sheet.
Even though he wasn’t able to score, Danforth put forth the exact type of effort needed to secure Ullmark his first shut out. If this game is any indication of his professional work ethic, I would love to see the Amerks sign him through next year. His hard working, aggressive style is exactly what Rochester needs to consistently win games.