A Kzoo Look: February 24

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Kalamazoo had a tough weekend schedule – playing two games at home against Colorado and a game in Toledo on Sunday. Toledo is one of the top teams in the league and Colorado is a very fast and physical team. This is Kalamazoo’s only time seeing Colorado this season. Pat Conacher, Utica Comets GM, was in Kzoo for the games against Colorado. McEneny was in the starting lineup on Friday. As expected, Colorado tried to completely shut down the Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox line by physically dominating them. Colorado was especially tough on Valk with hitting him every opportunity they had. That settled down after the 1st period with Valk watching his opponents closer so he could miss those hits. Colorado players chirped Fox a lot to try to get under his skin in an effort to get him to take penalties. Fox kept his cool and played smart throughout the game. A few Colorado players tried to get Fox to fight but he just laughed them off.

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Blomstrand scored an unassisted goal 6:34 into the 1st period a few seconds after their power play ended. Cederholm scored his 1st pro goal off a tip-in in front of the net. Cederholm’s goal tied the game up at 3-3 late in the 1st period. Cederholm also had 2 assists for a 3 point night.

Valk impressed me this weekend with his improved two-way play and never hesitates to jump back on defense when needed. His defensive play is getting stronger. 11 minutes into the 1st period Valk jumped back on defense to attack a rush – his positioning was better to get there before Blomstrand. Usually, Blomstrand is the first of this line to help out on defense. It is evident that Valk made it a point to work on the defensive side of his game.

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The only time Cederholm and McEneny are paired is on the PK – they are the 1st defensive pair. Valk and Blomstrand are on the 2nd PK unit. Valk, Blomstrand, Fox, and McEneny are on the 1st PP unit. McEneny and Cederholm also had shifts during some 4×4 time. Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox also all had shifts during weekend 4×4 time.

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The Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox line are fun to watch. They are so fluid with their passes – it is beautiful to watch. It is easy to tell how well they see each other and always know where each other will be on the ice. This line started the 2nd and 3rd periods. Valk had a breakaway with 7 minutes left in the 3rd period but lost his edge when getting tripped up by a Colorado skater and he couldn’t get a shot off. Kalamazoo won the game 6-5. Cederholm was named 2nd star of the game.

Saturday morning Kalamazoo had an optional practice. Fox, McEneny, and Cederholm skated. This was the first time I saw Blomstrand not participate in an optional practice. He was at the arena for a workout and then watched some of the practice.

Cederholm was in the starting lineup on Saturday. 5 minutes into the game the Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox line were out for a PP. At a quick whistle, a few seconds into the PP Fox went to the bench to switch sticks. Valk won the next faceoff with Mallet then feeding the puck to Fox near the blue line. Fox fired off a rocket slapshot that beat the goalie for the team-leading 21st goal of the season.

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The two games against Colorado had more of a playoff feel to them with being much faster and more physical. Again a lot of chirping at Fox and he again stayed smart. Fox only had one minor penalty during a big scrum midway through the 2nd period.

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Cederholm picked up his 2nd goal in as many nights at the beginning of the 2nd period. 6 minutes later Kzoo was on a 4×3 Valk won a faceoff in the Kzoo zone and with the ref’s hand up for a delayed penalty on Colorado (McEneny took a stick to the mouth) the goalie was on his way to the bench. McEneny moved up ice to pass to Blomstrand who fed it to Valk. Valk scored his 9th goal of the season. Even though the goalie hadn’t made it to the bench yet this was credited as a PP goal. Blomstrand and McEneny picked up the assists.

13 minutes into the 2nd McEneny jumped in as two Colorado players were on his defensive partner. A Colorado player dropped his gloves and grabbed McEneny trying to get him to fight back. McEneny kept him tied up but did not throw any punches back so McEneny was not penalized. McEneny had a much more physical game on Saturday and he is very smart with it. He doesn’t fight but knows how to use his body to overpower his opponents. Cederholm threw so very strong checks on Saturday – this was missing from his game on Friday.

Blomstrand had some good checks as well. But the hardest hit of the night was courtesy of Valk. In the 3rd period, a Colorado player was skating in on the Kzoo goalie – Valk and Blomstrand jumped back on defense. Valk threw a thunderous check on the Colorado skater to completely level him along the boards to eliminate the scoring chance.

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With 5 minutes left in the 3rd period, Blomstrand scored a beautiful goal. Blomstrand skated in on the goalie with a dangle and fake causing the goalie to go down early so he had a wide open net to shoot into. Pat Conacher got a big smile on his face from the Blomstrand goal. Kalamazoo won the game 6-3. Valk was named 2nd star of the game with Blomstrand named 3rd star.

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Saturday night was a sad night in Kalamazoo with the news of all the shootings. One of the shootings was about a mile away from the player apartments. Sunday afternoon the team bussed to Toledo to finish their 3-in-3 weekend. The Toledo Walleye really stepped up following the news and had their game staff wearing Kalamazoo jerseys and t-shirts to show their support. Fans made “Prayers for Kalamazoo” signs that lined the glass during warmups. Before the national anthem, both teams lined up on the red line for a moment of silence. I was privileged to be on the ice for this moment to capture it on camera. The jerseys worn by Toledo were auctioned after the game with the proceeds going to the families of the victims.

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Witt got the start in Toledo. My inner thought about it was that Witt wanted to start since it meant he didn’t have to sit on the bench. Witt prefers to not sit on the bench if there is a corner he can instead sit in alone. Toledo does not have such a spot, though. Witt performed very well in the game – he did not look rusty at all. He made some spectacular saves. Witt has very good puck-handling skills and is not afraid to play the puck along the boards and behind the net.

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I honestly did not have any further notes on this game with nothing else to report on that was not already covered. The prospects all played well but just could not get anything past the Toledo goalie. Valk and Cederholm had the best scoring chances of the night. I was really hoping Cederholm and Blomstrand would score their 3rd goals in 3 nights. An overall solid weekend for Kzoo winning two games to help their push for the playoffs. Kzoo flies to Orlando for 3 games this weekend.

  • TrueBlue

    I wonder with all the movement going on in the ahl/nhl if some callups are going to occur. A full line call up of valk/blomstrand/fox would be hilarious.

    That said I could see letting them play in the echl and reassessing next year

    • Sarah_Hobday

      I wish Utica would call up this entire line as they all play better when together. They all definitely have the skills (skating, speed, physicality, vision, and scoring prowess) to be in the AHL. Just need to be given the opportunity. And I am still trying to come up with a good nickname for this line…