Ice gives players rutted feeling

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

KITCHENER -- The ice isn't nice at the Memorial Cup this week.

Belleville star Shawn Matthias has noticed it's hard to find an extra gear on the soft Memorial Auditorium surface.

"It must be tough because you have all those TV lights shining down on it all the time," the Bulls forward said.

Kitchener leading scorer Justin Azevedo has played at the Aud all season. He's been a Ranger for four years. This ice is his office. Working conditions have been dicey.

"It makes it more difficult to handle the puck and you notice it on the long cross-ice passes," Azevedo said. "It was rough at the start of the year and then Pete (GM and head coach Peter DeBoer) talked to somebody and it got better."

The rink got colder. The ice got harder.

Azevedo, the OHL scoring champ, was shut out in his team's 2-1 loss to Spokane on Sunday. He needs crisp ice, especially for the spectacular backhand passes he uses to set up one-timers.

"It's a risky pass but it can catch the other team by surprise," he said.

Soft ice is nothing new in a hockey rink in mid-May. Organizers actually caught a break because it's been mostly rainy and cool.

Rangers forward Mike Duco got his skate caught a couple of times. His blade fell out once. Gatineau defenceman Hubert Labrie stepped in a rut. Now he's fighting an injury.

It could be worse.

"It's not uncommon in our league to find some rinks that have soft ice, especially this late in the season," said Bulls head coach-GM George Burnett. "We're lucky because we don't have that problem at our place (Yardmen Arena). We have great, hard ice."

Part of the problem is the fault of Burnett's Bulls. Their resilience forced a Game 7 in the OHL final at the Aud on May 12. The rink didn't get a chance to breathe before the Memorial Cup began.

"I stepped in a rut coming off the ice (for the morning skate)," Burnett said, "but you won't hear me complaining. The ice you get is the ice you get."

You won't hear the Spokane Chiefs complaining. The Western league champs are 2-0 and wouldn't say a peep if the tournament was being contested on a half-melted popsicle.

They have some fast guys but enjoy playing low-scoring games. If pucks are jumping over opponents' sticks in the crease, they don't care.

"It's a little soft but it's better than a lot of the ice we play on in our league," said Chiefs forward Jared Spurgeon. "At our rink, the ice is inconsistent because we have a large arena and it's going in and out all the time for concerts and other events."

The Aud ice is a real change from Kitchener's Sportsworld, where the teams have been practising on non-game days.

"The ice there is hard and fast and then you come here, but we're (at the Aud for the morning skate) for the next two days, so it won't be a big deal," Matthias said.


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