Kalamazoo played two home games as part of the ECHL Hockey Heritage Weekend. There was no ECHL All-Star game this year. Instead, the league had a week of festivities in Kalamazoo consisting of a Stanley Cup tour, several other trophies, and artifacts from the Hockey Hall of Fame. The ECHL Hall of Fame induction luncheon was held on Friday with members of the Kalamazoo Wings and Toledo Walleye all in attendance.
The keynote speaker for the luncheon was Ken Holland of the Red Wings. Due to the pre-game luncheon skates were held earlier than usual and naps were delayed as the luncheon did not end until 2:00 pm. The game Friday night had both teams wearing retro jerseys. On Saturday night, the teams wore futuristic jerseys. The game Saturday night was televised on NHL Network, NESN, and BCSN. It was great seeing the ECHL get national TV coverage. For those that watched – I was on camera quite a lot while standing behind the glass taking pictures.
This weekend was the first time I saw Kalamazoo play for six weeks. This was also the first time seeing Curtis Valk and Evan McEneny since returning from injury. Kalamazoo played both games against rival Toledo Walleye – winning 5-1 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday. The Walleye had been on a tear lately with a 9-1-1 record in the last 11 games. Kalamazoo was up to the challenge – most of all the top line of Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox that combined for 9 points on Friday.
Cederholm was in the starting lineup on Friday. McEneny is on the 2nd defensive pair. I am glad to see Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox together on the top line as they have incredible chemistry. They read each other extremely well and know where each other will be on the ice. 3:45 into the game Blomstrand had a breakaway but couldn’t get a shot up. In the very next play, Valk scored a beauty of a goal with Blomstrand getting an assist. I could tell how much Valk bulked up during his rehab from injury. Valk is playing the body more – throwing more hits and overall being more physical than last season. Valk also is faster than last season – he could almost keep up with Blomstrand. Valk seems more confident on the ice – a combination of being his second-year pro and knowing his line mates so well.
Cederholm showed off his smooth skating midway through the 1st when picking up the puck in the corner by the Kzoo goalie and rushing up the ice to put up a shot for a nice scoring chance. Not to be outdone Blomstrand next used his impressive speed to get up the ice feeding Valk with a perfect pass for his 2nd goal of the game. Blomstrand and Fox picked up the assists.
Blomstrand continued his strong two-way game in using his speed to jump back on defense when he can get across the ice before other Kzoo defensemen. Throughout the game, Blomstrand was like a 3rd defenseman by helping out the Kzoo goalie. Blomstrand threw several big hits throughout. Fox also continued his physical play with multiple substantial hits as well. Despite the physical game, Kalamazoo was called for two minor penalties while Toledo was whistled for none. McEneny was on the 1st PK unit, and Cederholm was on the 2nd PK unit.
Cederholm impressed me with his play over the weekend with his strong physical presence and fluid skating. I can see marked improvement in all areas of his game since Penticton. I especially noticed increased speed and higher confidence on the ice. Cederholm is very smooth in his playmaking and sees the game well. Cederholm threw multiple huge hits along the boards during both games. Cederholm played smart all weekend. Even when Toledo players were taking cheap shots at him, he kept his cool and never retaliated.
Cederholm and McEneny had a lot of ice time over the weekend. Their pairings seemed to have twice as much ice time as the 3rd defense pair. McEneny is a great skater. One shift that caught my eye was how quickly McEneny could pivot to change directions when he had control of the puck – causing a Toledo forward to lose his edge and fall while trying to keep up with McEneny. Nothing else really jumped out at me regarding McEneny’s play. He had an overall very robust and solid night.
The Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox line I’d guess had about 25-28 minutes of ice time in each game – they seemed to be on the ice every other shift. Valk completed his natural hat trick early in the 2nd period off a weird bounce. After going up 3-0, Kzoo overall let up on their intensity – except for the Canucks prospects which was great to see. They all kept up the intensity level and physical presence in the game. 11 minutes into the 3rd Blomstrand scored an utterly gorgeous goal. Blomstrand used speed to jump up the ice scoring on a rocket of a slap shot. Fox picked up an assist. Valk was named the 1st star of the game (3G), and Blomstrand was the 3rd star (1G 2A). Fox finished the night with three assists.
Following the huge win on Friday night, Kzoo had an optional morning skate. Blomstrand, Cederholm, and McEneny skated. Fox and Valk worked out and then watched some of the practice. Seeing Valk in workout gear, I could tell the muscle he put on during rehab – especially across his back and shoulders. This has proved beneficial in face offs.
The Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox line started the game on Saturday with McEneny on the back end. This line was also the 1st PP unit. Valk, Blomstrand, Cederholm, and McEneny all saw time on four on four. McEneny is on the 1st PK unit. Blomstrand, Valk, and Cederholm are on the 2nd PK unit.
Cederholm had another strong game. 12 minutes into the 1st when the Kzoo goalie was caught out of the crease Cederholm came in to keep the puck from crossing the goal line. Cederholm is excellent at using his bulk to move bodies out of the crease. McEneny also had a solid game. The tv broadcaster said, “McEneny is deceptively physical.”
13 minutes into the 1st while on the PK Blomstrand intercepted a Toledo pass in front of his goalie. Blomstrand was trying just to kill time by skating up the ice. Using his explosive speed Blomstrand whipped past 2 Toledo skaters and decided to get a shot up. When in on the goalie Blomstrand used his accurate shot to slip the puck under his blocker. Unassisted shorthanded goal to start the night’s scoring. In watching the TV broadcast, the announcer said Blomstrand had “NHL speed and skating ability.”
Shortly after the Blomstrand goal, Fox thought he scored, but it was immediately waved off for goalie interference. With the big night on Friday Toledo was all over Valk to keep him off the scoreboard. Valk did not even have any shots on goal.
3 minutes into the 2nd Valk was tripped by a Toledo skater and then tangled with the linesman who didn’t get out of the way. While off balance Toledo’s Freibergs came charging towards Valk to level him with a hard check against the Kzoo bench. Fox took offense to Freibergs hit and dropped the gloves to stick up for his linemate. Fox easily won this fight. Both players received 5 for fighting and Fox picked up an integrating minor. Following the fight, the broadcaster said, “Dane likes to play with edge.” I concur, and it is fun to watch.
I’ve said it before but always amazes me how well conditioned Blomstrand is. Midway through the 2nd Blomstrand took a 2 ½ minute long shift with only one short whistle. The entire shift he skated hard and kept up his speed. He didn’t look gassed until he was finally able to get to the bench.
Early in the third the Valk, Blomstrand, and Fox line were out for a PP when their defenseman scored. Blomstrand picked up an assist. Blomstrand finished the game with 1G 1A and was named 3rd star. He was the only one on his line with points in the game. Cederholm stayed off the scoresheet, but McEneny got an assist on the 3rd Kzoo goal.
Valk has improved on the defensive side of his game since last season. 12 minutes into the 3rd Valk and Blomstrand were out for a PK. Valk made a great defensive play to neutralize an odd-man rush by blocking a shot. Blomstrand blocked the next shot. Both looked unyielding defensively and helped Kzoo kill the penalty.
An overall great weekend in Kzoo with the prospects all playing extremely well. Kzoo has a big week coming up with road games on Wednesday and Friday before returning home for a Sunday game.