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The Farmies: Vasily Podkolzin and Tristen Nielsen make cases for NHL call-ups despite Abbotsford Canucks’ loss

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Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Cody Severtson
3 months ago
As the lower mainland collectively prepared themselves for round two of another January snowstorm, setting up their home office, taking a sick day, doing an early grocery shop, and scheduling a cutesy out-of-office message, nothing could have prepared the smattering of diehard Abbotsford Canuck faithful for the rollercoaster of emotions that was the Abbotsford Canucks’ three-goal second-period comeback against the visiting Ontario Reign on Tuesday night.
Starting Lineup
Reinforcements couldn’t have come at a better time for the Abbotsford Canucks. With Linus Karlsson and Sheldon Dries out of the lineup due to call-up and injury, respectively, the Canucks goalscoring fell off a cliff in the weirdest way imaginable over the past six games: three games, scoring five goals per, for 15 total, with three shutout losses sandwiched between each.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before! Abbotsford went 22 straight games before getting shut out by the Tucson Roadrunners on December 15th. They’ve since been shut out thrice on December 29th, January 6th, and January 12th. Strangely, they were shut out just twice last season, at almost the same timeframe on December 17th and again two weeks later on January 4th.
Through the first 40 minutes of Tuesday night’s game. It seemed like the Canucks were doomed to make it four shutout losses in seven games. But then the Canucks did “AHL things,” squeezing in the best of both versions of Abbotsford: the lethargic, slow-starting, shutout-prone Canucks, and the high-scoring, possession-dominant, 5v5-king Canucks.
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
Game #34
1st period
Jermaine Loewen set the tone early, lowering the shoulder on Ontario’s Jacob Doty, who was none too happy with the early physicality.
A pin was put in the tough-guy shenanigans by Vasily Podkolzin, who forced a turnover out to John Stevens from inside the offensive zone, resulting in a one-timer attempt from Podz into the stratosphere.
Right idea; rough execution.
Mark Friedman, who was playing his first game in over two months, got his first taste of Abbotsford hockey, aptly defending a two-on-one rush chance with a perfect poke-check on Alex Turcotte.
Both teams went scoreless through the first five minutes, with both teams trying to establish control in each other’s offensive zone to no avail.
The Reign tested the defensive prowess of the Canucks’ second line featuring Max Sasson, Tristen Nielsen, and Aidan McDonough. After missing a poke check along the d-zone half wall, McDonough appeared to sit back on his heels, hoping Sasson would bail him out up the wall. McDonough recognized that he’d have to make up for his error, kicked up his feet and went back to work along the wall to spark a return of possession for Abbotsford. McDonough & co eventually broke the puck out of the d-zone for a brief tryst in the Reign’s end.
Danila Klimovich, who has spent most of the season nursing injuries, spent most of his first shift chasing the puck. On his third shift, Klim missed a breakout feed from Wolanin but engaged the afterburners to split the Reign’s defence to negate the icing.
The above sequence might not seem like much, but it’s a good reminder to armchair Canuck-prospect fans of how little opportunity Klim has been given this season to build on his impressive turnaround that began last season.
Nearing the midway point of the period, Ontario’s Taylor Ward clipped the heel of Arturs Silovs’ right skate, sending him crashing to the ice. Much to the Goalie Guild’s delight, Silovs made several highlight-reel windmill saves with the pads from the “Draw me like one of your French girls” position to keep the score nil-nil.
Silovs was not so lucky a minute later when a shot from Kim Nousiainen ricocheted off Andre Lee’s stick and the inside of Nick Cicek’s left skate.
Ontario Reign Goal: 1-0 Reign Andre Lee from Kim Nouisiainen and Hayden Hodgson
It was an unfortunate sequence of events for Silovs, who was caught in no-mans-land adjusting his positioning to catch the initial redirect off Lee’s stick, only for the puck to redirect wide left past Silovs’ left pad.
The Reign’s tight-checking through the neutral zone and man-to-man coverage in the d-zone stifled the Canucks’ ability to generate meaningful offence from dangerous areas. Though they kept even with Ontario in shots (nine-all, after the opening 20 minutes), almost all came from low-danger point shots off the perimeter from the defence.
The odd time the Canucks did enter the zone with speed or with numbers, the Reign were equally as game on the defence. After a rare misplay in the neutral zone, the Canucks sprang an odd-man rush into the offensive zone, with John Stevens dropping a pass to Cole McWard for the one-timer, only for it to get blocked aside by Cody Haiskanen.
One minute after the McWard attempt, ex-Canucks prospect Tyler Madden added to the Reign’s lead with a one-timer from the slot after a coverage breakdown.
Ontario Goal: 2-0 Reign Tyler Madden from Wyatt Wyllie and Taylor Ward
The sequence begins with an entry from Wyllie and a drop pass to Taylor Ward along the right wall. Wyllie cruised below the goal line around Christian Wolanin, who could only muster a slash toward Ward’s hands. Mark Friedman did his best Tyler Myers impression to break up the centring pass, but the angle wasn’t there, allowing Madden to rifle one over the right shoulder of a screened Silovs.
Immediately after the post-goal faceoff, a fortunate bounce off the linesman’s skate gave way to a dangerous 2-on-1 for Ontario, with Akil Thomas dragging around the sliding Friedman for a wrister off the inside of the post.
Late in the period, Aatu Räty drew a tripping penalty against Martin Chromiak to give Abbotsford the evening’s first power play.
Unfortunately, it went as well as you’d expect from the worst power play in the league against the league’s fifth-best PK.
Ontario Goal: 3-0 Reign Andre Lee unassisted
The Canucks’ first power play unit has struggled mightily this season. While Linus Karlsson coughing one up at the blue line can be expected from someone who spent most of Vancouver’s Eastern road trip in the press box, it was another ho-hum performance on the man advantage from PP1 staples Tristen Nielsen, Arshdeep Bains, Vasily Podkolzin, and Vasily Podkolzin. Something just hasn’t clicked for this group on the man advantage. Fortunately, the second unit got a decent look after the shorthanded tally to end the fan’s suffering.
The Canucks would get shots on Erik Portillo from their second power play unit that featured Sasson, McDonough, Räty, Chase Wouters, and Filip Johansson. That unit provided the club’s most dangerous chance of the period to that point, with a one-timer from McDonough off a brilliant cross-ice pass from Räty.
The fear of dropping their fourth shutout loss in seven games must have weighed heavily on the club heading into the first intermission because they looked like a team possessed to start the second period.
2nd period
Following a hard forechecking effort and pass from Vasily Podkolzin, Christian Wolanin broke the shutout threat with his first goal in 20 games.
Abbotsford Goal: 3-1 Reign Christian Wolanin from Vasily Podkolzin and John Stevens
The goal only happens thanks to the collapse of Mark Friedman and Stevens along the right wall. The veteran skaters managed to take both Nouisiainen and Chromiak out along the right wall, opening the space for Podkolzin’s feed and Wolanin’s wrister.
Five minutes later, the Canucks halved the Reign’s lead with a greasy rebound goal from Linus Karlsson at the goalmouth.
Abbotsford Goal: 3-2 Reign Linus Karlsson from Arshdeep Bains and John Stevens
Maybe Portillo wanted to join Silovs in the scorpion-kick/windmill acrobatics to give the Vancouver Goalie Guild something to talk about. Whatever it was, it was a bizarre series of save attempts that led to Stevens picking up his sixth point in two games and Bains picking up his fourth point in two.
With the Reign pressing to hold their lead, Podkolzin broke up a d-zone cycle to go for an end-to-end rush, drawing an interference penalty against Jacob Moverave, giving Abbotsford their second straight power play.
Colliton gave his second unit the start on the power play since most of his first unit was on the ice for the Podkolzin penalty-draw shift. After a minute of control, the second unit subbed off in favour of the first unit, where they promptly generated zero shots on net.
Had the Canucks not outshot the Reign 8-2 ahead of their power play opportunity, I’d have offered a snarky comment on their power play struggle. However, their overall effort to mount a comeback while dominating possession and shot control earned them a reprieve from my usual sass.
It was even easier to forgive when Tristen Nielsen sparked a 4-on-2 rush for Abbotsford off a d-zone faceoff to equalize the game at 3-apiece.
Abbotsford Goal: 3-3 Tie Aidan McDonough from Tristen Nielsen and Mark Friedman
Impressively, Nielsen sparked this equalizer sequence while playing matchup minutes against the Reign’s second line of Ward-Turcotte-Madden from inside the d-zone.
We’ve previously mentioned Nielsen’s ability to generate timely goals and his propensity for only scoring on highlight-reel sequences. McDonough’s fifth of the year was the perfect blend of both: a fantastic sequence from the undrafted forward prospect to complete the second-period comeback effort.
The Canucks held the Reign to a handful of shots and entered the final frame, having outshot the Reign 21 to 14 through 40 minutes.
3rd period
To start the third, Reign head coach Marco Sturm shook up his forward lines and d-pairings for the opening faceoff. The result saw Abbotsford hem Ontario into their zone for the first two minutes of the final frame.
The Canucks pulled a bit of an UNO reverse card on the Reign to start the third, stifling their ability to attack through the neutral zone with a heavy forecheck. Their first shot on net came from a step-in clapper from Hayden Hodgson five minutes into the period.
Podkolzin, who was skating laps around the Reign whenever he was on the ice, made an excellent read while activating on the forecheck. As Erik Portillo left his net to play the puck up to the half wall, Podkolzin kicked into gear to steal Portillo’s pass and centre the puck into the slot.
Unfortunately, no one was there, but Podkolzin’s efforts on the forecheck had Ontario on their heels repeatedly during his shifts.
I had joked before that Podkolzin always seemed to have quiet nights whenever I was on Farmies duty but loud nights whenever Dave Hall was on Farmies duty. Oh, how nice it was to see him dominating the ice in his minutes as a heavy-press forechecker against the Reign’s top line of Charles Hudon, T.J. Tynan, and Martin Chromiak.
Midway through the period, Linus Karlsson took an interference penalty to give Ontario their first power play of the game.
Colliton’s PK began with his usual starting duo of Wouters and Stevens alongside the pairing of Irwin and Johansson. Wouters won the initial draw to Johansson, who rifled the puck down the length of the ice. Unfortunately, after regrouping in the offensive zone, the Reign’s power play connected to regain the lead.
Ontario Goal: 4-3 Reign Alex Turcotte from Charles Hudon and T.J. Tynan
Silovs didn’t have much of a chance on the tiebreaker goal. On top of having Irwin, Stevens, and Turcotte stacked in front of his sightline, Silovs had to deal with a last-second redirect of Hudon’s one-timer off Turcotte’s skate from the tip of his crease.
Minutes later, Nielsen nearly equalized for Abbotsford after firing a shot on Portillo off an offensive-zone faceoff. Nielsen’s shot took a weird bounce and trickled dangerously out of Portillo’s grasp. Chase Wouters managed to spot the puck under Portillo’s back and crashed on the rebound, only to send the puck just wide of the right post.
Taking a shift moments later, Stevens sprang Nielsen into the offensive zone on a breakaway, dragging the puck for a shot into Portillo’s breadbasket.
Throughout Abbotsford’s late comeback attempt, Aidan McDonough was firing one-timers on Portillo ad nauseam. His four shots were his most on net since a meeting against the Calgary Wranglers back in November.
Then, with five minutes remaining, a line of Sasson, Podkolzin, and Karlsson, featuring Wolanin and Friedman on the blue line, rattled off a run of possession that would warrant a cup of coffee with Vancouver for any of the five skaters.
After hemming the Reign into their end for the better part of two minutes, a seemingly not-tired Podkolzin had Portillo scrambling with a wrister through traffic.
Nielsen then drew Portillo’s best save of the game, forcing him to make a spectacular stretch glove save off his one-timer from the right circle.
With more than two minutes left in the game, Colliton pulled Silovs for the extra attacker, deploying a grouping of Bains, Podkolzin, Nielsen, Wouters, Wolanin, and Karlsson to push for the equalizer.
Though they didn’t give up an empty netter, the tired sixsome couldn’t crack the Reign’s defence, dropping a heartbreaker to begin this busy four-in-six at home.
Final score
Ontario Reign defeat the Abbotsford Canucks 4-3
CanucksArmy’s Three Stars
The evening’s first star belongs to Vasily Podkolzin, who may have had the most dominant one-point game I’ve seen from him this season. Maybe the Canucks brass were at the game to take in an Abbotsford game after a lengthy Eastern road swing, or maybe Podkolzin just felt like showing how he could be the best player on the ice on every shift because he was a force. As I said earlier, Podkolzin seemingly saved his best performances for whenever I was not on Farmies duty, to the point that I started having reasonable concerns about his timid play and lack of “being the guy” for Abbotsford in the games that I did watch him play. Tonight was an excellent reminder of why a large sample size viewing of a player is so important. Podkolzin showed he can be the guy for an AHL team tonight against Ontario. We’ll see if Podkolzin can repeat his “guy/60” Wednesday night with either Dave or myself on Farmies duty. Without his work on the forecheck, I don’t think they mount a comeback or dominate possession like they did in the third period.
The night’s second star belongs to Tristen Nielsen, who, like Podkolzin, was a force in Abbotsford’s comeback efforts. Without his odd-man rushes, they don’t come back in the second period nor keep the Reign on their heels in the third. Though the Canucks didn’t get much of an opportunity to work on the penalty kill, I do wonder where Nielsen and Podkolzin figure into NHL call-up considerations down the road. Neither guy has featured in even a minor PK role for Jeremy Colliton, but they feature heavily in games they are trailing or trying to hold leads. PK time isn’t the end-all-be-all of a prospect’s NHL potential, but it gives an idea of the call-up pecking order. Linus Karlsson wasn’t a mainstay PK feature, then started getting third-shift reps late last season and this season, and has been the number one guy called up for the forward reserves. Max Sasson has since joined Abbotsford’s third-shift PK group, as has Aatu Räty. Bains is the lone exception in that he plays a significant second-shift PK role but is still biding his time for a call-up. All this is to say, for NHL call-up watch, keep an eye out for Nielsen or Podkolzin getting minor reps on the PK. Tonight’s efforts from both assuredly jumped them higher on the ‘next-man-up’ pecking order.
The third star belongs to John Stevens, who casually backed up a hat-trick and four-point night last Saturday against Tucson with another two assists against the Reign on Tuesday night. Not bad for the man they call ‘Stone Cold’ Stevens.
Next up on the Docket
Barring weather concerns, the Canucks should return for the rematch against the Reign Wednesday night.

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