February 10, 2014
No doubt everyone has seen an end-to-end sequence in hockey where a goalie denies a sure goal and her/his team comes right back up the ice and scores.
On Saturday, there was just such an occurrence in the Ontario Hockey League, only it involved a goal being prevented by a defenceman. who promptly fired a breakout pass that started a rush that ended with a goal. Saginaw Spirit defenceman Jesse Graham, a 2012 sixth-round choice of the NHL's New York Islanders, made a have-to-see-it-believe-it play to prevent an empty-netter, racing back to his own end and getting his blade on the puck when it was right on the goal line. In one motion, the 19-year-old defenceman turned it into a breakout pass, sparking a rush that ended with Saginaw's Kristoff Kontos scoring.
Who says you can't outskate the puck? The downside is that Saginaw was down by two goals to the division rival Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The Kontos tally ultimately only made the difference between a 6-5 or a 7-4 defeat, but Graham's hustle and pinpoint pass extended the game. Even easing up for a millisecond might have allowed the puck to slide into the yawning cage and essentially end the game, so share that with all those kids out there.
Graham has been an intriguing player over his run in the OHL, as a defenceman who's a relatively stripling at a listed 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds. The Toronto native isn't a purely offence-first D-man even though one might be inclined to view him as such because of his modest stature. His 41 points over 53 games between the Niagara IceDogs, where he began the year as captain, and Saginaw, puts him a mere eighth in the OHL defenceman scoring race. The Toronto native also unsigned by an Islanders organization that used its entire '12 draft on defenders (three of whom played in this season's world junior), which could make it more challenging to earn a contract. Yet he's always been a very guileful player who stepped into the OHL at age 16 and immediately handled a big role with Niagara, where he and current Boston Bruins defenceman Dougie Hamilton were partners for much of their 2½ seasons together.
IceDogs coach-GM Marty Williamson anticipated that Graham would be moving on to bigger and brighter things in 2014-15 when he traded him to Saginaw in November.
It would have been pretty rough for the Greyhounds if Saginaw had scored another goal and forced overtime. The Soo's execution on that defensive zone faceoff was actually letter-perfect, with Phoenix Coyotes signing Tyler Gaudet winning the draw to Edmonton Oilers first-rounder Darnell Nurse for a one-timed clearout. The 'Hounds might have relaxed thinking the puck would go in, but they got the first part right.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (video: Saginaw Spirit).