Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Metal Ligaen Under Siege

The above image is quite appropriate considering the wreckage that has been left behind in the Metal Ligaen. The Aalborg Pirates, a team I introduced you to back in July, is currently sacking the league like only pirates could as they've escaped eight contests with 23 points - one short of perfection. Coached by Brandon Reid, the Aalborg Pirates aren't laying waste to their opponent, though. No, Reid has them playing what can only be called "playoff hockey" in October as six of eight games have been decided by one goal. The key in this statistic, though, is that the Pirates are 6-for-6 in one-goal games already in this season. If Reid is looking to have a playoff-ready team for the end of the season, starting early might prove beneficial when it comes to building resolve in his players!

The only point missed by the Pirates thus far came back on October 4 when the Herning Blue Fox took the Pirates into overtime tied in scoreless draw. A shootout would be needed, and the Pirates got goals from Peter Quenneville and Christopher Frederiksen while 28 year-old French netminder Ronan Quemener stopped both Herning shots to secure the win for Aalborg. There hasn't been a start in the Metal Ligaen in some time of this caliber, and it seems that Brandon has the team sailing in the right direction!

Today, with their eighth win in eight games, the Pirates took down reigning Danish champions Esbjerg in a 2-1 final. While other teams have more talented rosters on paper, it seems that Brandon Reid has really brought this collection of players together quickly. Because of their quick start this season, the Pirates have a nine-point cushion on the second-place Rodovre Mighty Bulls, a team they beat on October 11 by a 4-1 score. For a team that went 14-24-3-4 last season, the fans in Aalborg are quickly endearing themselves to this plucky squad this season.

Before we start handing out awards and trophies, there is evidence that there is still work to be done. That could be seen in the October 14 game against last-place Herlev where the Pirates jumped out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before squandering those leads. The Pirates would push back to take the game by a 5-4 final score, but it was far from a perfect game according to newspaper reports. While is seems this young team suffers from the occasional lapse of concentration on the ice, they are getting the job done by the time the final horn sounds!

So who is making all the noise on this Pirates team? American Andrew Blazek and Canadian Peter Quenneville both have nine points on the season, and trail former NHL star Fabian Brunnström by two points for the overall lead. Quenneville plays on the top line for Aalborg, and has really seen his game take off playing alongside the aforementioned Frederiksen and centerman Julian Jakobsen. It's Blazek, however, who has really looked impressive after jumping from the ECHL to Aalborg. The defenceman is creating all sorts of chances for his team, and players such as Sebastien Ehlers and Martin Hojbjerg are benefiting greatly. The Pirates have a balanced attack, and are using that balance to throw teams off their defensive strategies early on in this season.

Perhaps the biggest surprise out of the team is goaltender Ronan Quemener. He suited up for France at the 2011 IIHF World Championship and most recently played for the Swedish second-division team Asplöven HC. In 46 games with Asplöven last season, Quemener was 17-25-0 with a 2.99 GAA and a .905 save percentage - hardly anything to write home about from a struggling second-division team. He was, however, the French League's rookie of the year 2009-10 and the French League's top goaltender in 2010-11 with Gap Rapaces before joining Grenoble Brûleurs de Loups and winning two French League championships. Maybe he's not so bad after all?

I would say that question can be answered with his stats this season. Quemener is 8-0-0 on the season with a miniscule 1.61 GAA and .937 save percentage. He's given up just 13 goals on 205 shots, and has backstopped Aalborg as the best defensive team in the league thus far. While the adage of "show me a good coach, and I'll show you a good goaltender" might hold true in this small eight-game sample size thus far, I believe that Brandon Reid and his Aalborg Pirates are for real.

The Pirates will be tested in their next two games as they have a home-and-home series with the Frederikshavn White Hawks. The White Hawks sit tied for third-place with 13 points on the strength of a 3-2-2-0 record, but familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes. The White Hawks get a couple of cracks to see if they can knock the Pirates off their winning ways, and there's a chance they could find a weakness in the league's top defensive team over those two games. The Pirates will have to be ready to play on the 21st and 25th if they hope to make it ten in a row... or should I say X in row. Because X marks the spot!

Don't be surprised if these Pirates roll through your town and pillage and plunder your local Danish hockey team for three points. They're proving their whole is greater than the individual parts on the ship steered by head coach Brandon Reid, and he's got them full-steam ahead on this journey to greatness! Arrr, matey!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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