Stan Butler calls Sam Carrick "the ultimate leader," which might be as big a compliment as a hockey player will ever get.
And it's hard to argue with the Brampton Battalion coach and general manager over his assessment of Carrick, a fifth-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2010. Particularly over the last couple of months, when Carrick has hoisted the Battalion onto his shoulders and willed them into a dog-fight for top spot in the Central Division with the Niagara IceDogs.
On paper, the hard-working, defensively-responsible Battalion shouldn’t even be close to the star-studded IceDogs, who boast five members of the Canadian junior team and 12 players drafted by NHL teams. But they are close, tied in fact, and a healthy portion of the credit must go to Carrick.
“He’s been the ultimate leader and he gives it every night,” Butler said of his captain. “Good leaders lead by example. He’s doing the things he needs to do to be successful. And he’s trying to get a (NHL) contract, too.”
I’ve got to think Carrick is a Brian Burke kind of player. He’s got all the traits the Leafs GM is looking for — belligerence, truculence, etc. — and he’s improved his offensive game to the point where he’s already set career highs in goals (25) and points (46).
The soon-to-be 20-year old from Stouffville is even better in his own end. He’s a plus-14 this season after being minus-15 in 2010-11.
Ask Carrick to pinpoint why things have gone so well for him this season and he shows off some of that leadership, first deflecting praise to his linemates, Ian Watters and Barclay Goodrow, before moving on to his own improved game.
“I’m in my fourth year now, I’ve been to two (NHL) training camps ... they’re looking at me as a prime scorer,” Carrick said. “I try to lead by example. For me it means showing the younger guys what it takes. I’ve got a lot of experience now. I’ve had some really good captains before and they’ve helped me a lot.”
With the Battalion over-achieving this season, Butler was reluctant to tinker with the chemistry very much before the trade deadline. He added forward Derek Froats from Kingston but that was the only significant pre-deadline deal.
Keeping the status quo looks like a smart decision.
“We’re one of the closest groups of guys I’ve ever played with,” Carrick said. “It works well for us. We hang out together off the ice a lot and I think that helps. I think things have gone well.”
The only thing that might top it off would be a contract with the Leafs. Over to you, Burkie.
AGOZZINO ON TOP
Niagara IceDogs overage captain Andrew Agozzino nudged aside Patrick O’Sullivan atop the franchise’s career goal-scoring list Sunday in a 3-0 win over Brampton.
Agozzino’s 30th of the season gives him 149 goals in his five-year career. O’Sullivan had 148 in a four-year career (2001-05), all when the team was in Mississauga.
Based purely on offensive talent, there were few better IceDogs than O’Sullivan, Agozzino included. But Agozzino, the first player ever drafted by Niagara, brings an intriguing combination of skill, grit (356 PIMs in 299 games) and leadership that makes him, for my money, a whole lot more valuable.
A point-per-game guy in the playoffs his first four years, Agozzino could really howl for the IceDogs once the post-season rolls around again.
Asked one NHL scout Friday night who he felt were the top OHL defence prospects for this year’s NHL draft and the answer was quick and, really, not entirely surprising — Olli Maatta of the London Knights and Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67’s, two of the top three d-men in the Central Scouting rankings.
But he really liked Guelph Storm defenceman Matt Finn, whose “compete level is off the charts.” Finn is ranked 15th among North American skaters, just ahead of Ceci and injured Slater Koekkoek of the Peterborough Petes, but this scout expects the Storm defenceman to be a late first-round pick.
INJURY BUG BITES
The CHL/NHL Top Prospects Games might consider a name change this year — to the Decent Prospects Game.
A number of the premium prospects, including top-ranked Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting, won’t play due to injuries. Yakupov returned to action Friday and played three games in three nights but, let’s face it, skipping the Prospects Game is a no-brainer.
Other top-20ish types who opted out are Maatta (6th), Ceci (16th), Koekkoek (17th), Jerrod Maidens of the Owen Sound Attack (21st) and Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls (top-ranked goalie). They’ve all been replaced by players lower down the rankings.
LOOK OUT, TWITTER
Yeah, I’m coming late (more than fashionably) to the Twitter party but I have, finally, arrived.
You can now follow the Sun’s OHL Report on Twitter (@pollardOHL) as I keep an eye on the best junior hockey league there is, with a particular emphasis on the teams found in the GTA and just beyond.
Check it out and feel free to send me any feedback.