So last nite I headed up to the Pacific Coliseum to check out how last year's top Leafs draft pick Brad "Rad Boss" Ross was coming along. I'm no scout but I didn't have to be: he was impossible to miss.
I got a pretty good inkling of just how abrasive his sandpaper game is a few shifts into the first period. Right in front of our seats, Giants' leading scorer Brendan Gallagher was sent flying into the end boards on a borderline hit by McLovin lookalike Brendan Lepistu. Gallagher lay prone and injured on the ice for over a minute, likely concussed. Everyone around us either gaped in horrified silence or whispered concerns to their neighbours. Everyone except Brad Ross, who skated by Gallagher and could be seen caustically chirping the injured Giant. Jesus.
That shift set the tone for the rest of the game. Gallagher never returned. The home crowd was subdued and so were the Giants, unable to get the puck out of their own end most of the first. Portland's combination of skill, size, and willingness to play right on the edge took over the game. Towards the end of the first, Ross opened the scoring by going to the net and burying a rebound. A minute later, Portland doubled their lead on the power play, Ross assisting on the goal, and that pretty much settled the game as a contest.
In the second the Winterhawks were attacking our end, so I saw more of Ross. As the game devolved into a classic junior hockey cheapshot war I also got to see him on the power play a bit. He plays on Portland's first unit (he also plays on the team's top line), tasked with getting in front of the net, setting screens, and picking up garbage goals. While he's not the biggest guy, his tenacity and balance is clearly evident, especially in one long-running battle with probable 2011 first-rounder David Musil.
After another dominant shift by Ross's line, he buried another rebound off a scramble for his second goal. Saying "Ross's line" is misleading though - he is certainly fortunate to be playing with Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter, both top-5 picks in last year's draft. Niederreiter was particular impressive last night. Beyond those three the Winterhawks have a couple other players, especially winger Sven Bartschi, who will probably be high picks in this year's draft. They are pretty stacked and they easily dismantled a solid Vancouver team.
Nonetheless, Ross was a major factor himself, constantly chirping, buzzing around the offensive zone, getting into scrums, and causing havoc around the front of the net. The Darcy Tucker comparisons are apt, and I was also strongly put in mind of former Petes captain Patrick Kaleta. He came close to his second hat trick in two nights on a couple occasions, but a third goal for Ross was not to be.
With a few seconds left in the second, after a brawl between a Hawk and Giant Andrej Stastny (no relation, but a decent looking player), Ross fought Giants captain James Henry. I am pretty sure that Henry jumped Ross, but not 100%. After a tussle, we could see Ross calling on all the remaining Giants, and doing the universal "title belt" mime as the referee ushered him off the ice to a chorus of jeers. He and Henry were both gone for the night with game misconducts. I watched Ross yapping away, reveling in the chaos and the 4-0 Hawk lead, turned to my brother and said "This guy's gonna be a folk hero in Toronto." My brother, a Habs fan, ruefully agreed.