PLYMOUTH — The NHL may be in its dead period of the offseason, but for some-140 young hockey players, the action is just gearing up. Team USA White made a big statement over Team Canada Red in Tuesday’s exhibition. From the start of the game, you could tell that Team USA owned the ice. They played at a fast, high-intensity pace — while Canada looked to be on their heels. To be fair, Canada was working with a form of handicap — as they hadn’t played a game yet, and Team USA was entering their third of the showcase. The Stars and Stripes made quick work, opening with a searing-hot five-goal first period, and Canada just couldn’t come back after that.
I obviously had my eyes fixed on Red Wings prospects Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen, but before I dive into what I saw from them, I have to say that I am extremely impressed with Casey Mittelstadt. He’s got a certain tempo to his game that enabled him to command the ice while he was on. He played on a line with Kailer Yamamoto and Logan Brown — a combination that Canada couldn’t contain. It was a lot of fun to watch.
It was tough to watch Cholowski and Rasmussen since their team was getting walloped so badly, but I did make a few observations; some good, some less than good, but all-in-all, I was impressed with them both.
Firstly, Rasmussen isn’t the quickest with lateral movement, which should be obvious given his size, but when he starts moving up the ice (he did a lot of it, because Canada was back and forth constantly), his momentum is tough to neutralize. Rasmussen spent the game playing on Mikey McLeod’s wing, and from what I see, he has the ability to make quick, simple plays to keep the puck moving forward. Canada spent a lot of time watching USA skate circles around them, but Rasmussen kept it simple, and didn’t make any mistakes with his game. When the puck came to him, he made the outlet or he chugged along up the ice.
One of Rasmussen’s greatest assets is his wingspan. He has remarkable gap control when he needs it, which makes him a good player to have on the penalty kill, or even as a secondary forechecker.
It’s difficult to get excited hearing stuff like this, but trust me when I say it, there was very little that was exciting about Canada’s game. It’s also important to remember that this was Rasmussen’s first 60-minute game since January — so naturally there were some cobwebs that needed to be shaken off.
On the flip-side of a rough performance, Dennis Cholowski was impressive. He played with great poise all game long, breaking up plays in the neutral zone multiple times — skating with confidence, and bring a calm sort of swagger to an early-rattled blue line. I never thought of Cholowski as a strong defensive-minded player, but he looked every bit of it.
Cholowski’s skating is as advertised; he’s a gifted skater with fluid strides. Not exactly Speedy Gonzales, but he didn’t get turned around by an obviously faster Team USA. He had one instance where Yamamoto was cruising up center ice one-on-one, and he obstructed his path with the body and broke up what was clear to be a breakaway.
The highlight of the game for Cholowski was his work on the power-play. He had a really good sequence with his partner (David Quenneville) on one try where he kept the puck in at the blue line, weaved through pressing defenders, and put up a shot attempt which redirected off of Brett Howden for a goal. Cholowski’s cerebral approach to the game and calm demeanor could be his best assets. It will be interesting how he develops going forward as the team presses him to fill out his frame.
It was obviously all Team USA, but you have to think that it has a lot to do with the conditioning differences. Canada and USA will make their first cuts and put together their full rosters for the main event this weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rasmussen and Cholowski stay. They played well despite an overall disappointing Team Canada performance.
I managed to get some time to speak with both Cholowski and Rasmussen, so I’ll be sure to transcribe that all for you this weekend.