Bolland a plus to Knights

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:04 PM ET

It was just another night at the office for OHL scoring leader David Bolland.

His office measures 200 feet by 85 feet, although it's the 73 feet at the back end that sometimes gets neglected.

The fourth-year London Knights forward has 25 goals and 34 assists for 59 points, tops in the Canadian Hockey League.

But there's another statistic that jumps out -- his plus/minus rating.

Bolland is minus-two after being on the ice for a late even-strength goal by the Owen Sound Attack, but it's a stat the Knights are prepared to overlook, to a certain extent.

Assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said five-on-five hockey remains important, even though special teams have taken over with the new rules enforcement.

"Our first concern is always playing well in our own zone and making sure we get out clean," Beaulieu said. "When we're on defence, we don't want anybody cheating. If one guy's cheating, he's cheating his teammates and our team and we don't want that."

But in Bolland's case there is an explanation, Beaulieu said.

"He had a lot of minuses early in the season when we went 0-4. He was playing a lot and we didn't have much at the time," Beaulieu said of the games before forwards Rob Schremp and Dylan Hunter and goalie Adam Dennis returned from pro camps.

"We know defensively David is responsible. Sometimes you get bad breaks -- a guy coming out of the penalty box and getting a breakaway and I think that's happened to him twice now (which counts against a player's plus/minus)."

Sixteen of Bolland's 25 goals have been scored on the power play but as Beaulieu pointed out, Bolland has been stung with the Knights enjoying the man advantage. He's usually on the point during the power play and he's the first to admit playing the blue-line is not his strong suit.

"I know I'm not as good defensively as some of the guys in our room, but it's an important part of the game," Bolland said.

"I know it's a PP (power play) game now, but we still have to get it done five-on-five. I know that . . . and we're looking to improve that."

Bolland will make the Canadian team for the world junior championship in Vancouver and his plus/minus will be a consideration as to how he's used.

"I'm sure they look at it," Beaulieu said, "but (Hockey Canada chief scout) Blair Mackasey sees the way David plays hard five-on-five."

The Chicago Blackhawks, Bolland's future employer after picking him in the second round, 32nd overall, in the 2004 NHL draft, have also been checking the numbers.

"The Chicago scouts look at that and they know I should be a plus, there's no way I should be a minus," Bolland said.

"I'm working on it. I'm going to improve that. They're expecting a plus . . . and they called, just to make sure I should start scoring some goals on even strength."

Earlier, he was at minus-seven.

"To start it was all PP, every other shift it was PP," Bolland said. "I knew it was going to come down. It was going to take time. I just have to work harder on even strength."

The power play is a major part of the game and there's no arguing Bolland's contribution with the man advantage.

With strict enforcement by the referees -- or at least by most of them -- teams are averaging 25 penalty minutes a game and eight power plays a game. The average last season was five power plays per team per game.

The restraining fouls are what the OHL is after and hooking penalties are up 180 per cent, tripping 145 per cent and holding 106 per cent. But with the crackdown, players aren't getting as frustrated and fighting has declined 31 per cent while major stick infractions are down significantly -- 60 per cent fewer cross-checking majors and 50 per cent fewer slashing majors.

Ted Baker, the OHL's director of hockey operations, said discipline has also been "lighter than usual."

Beaulieu said "with the way our league is going, you're spending half the game with special teams," which puts even more emphasis on even-strength play -- at both ends of the ice.

It's a big office, which Bolland is discovering.


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