On Sunday the Brampton Beast will be playing their 18th game of the season against the Toledo Walleye at the Powerade Centre, hitting the quarter mark of the season as the hottest team in the ECHL.
The Beast have now won six games in a row, the second-longest winning streak in the league this season, and longest current streak. Of the six-game win streak, five games were at home, the final three part of the Beast’s ongoing longest homestand of the season.
The first quarter
The Beast suffered from a poor start to the season, in the image of their NHL affiliate Montreal Canadiens. It was in fact the team’s worst start since they joined the ECHL, earning only one point in their first six games.
However since then the Beast have only lost twice in regulation in 11 games, for a record of 8-7-1. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to fight up the divisional rankings, where the Beast sit in fifth place but are only four points back of the division-leading Manchester Monarchs.
Goaltending coming around
It wasn’t easy for the goaltenders on the Beast at the start of the season, as both Marcus Hogberg and Michael McNiven struggled heavily. McNiven had particularly poor statistics in his first four professional starts with the team, with a goals-against average of 4.19 and a save percentage of .868.
Over the course of this six-game winning streak, every goaltender has stepped up. Although McNiven was recalled to Laval, Hogberg played three games, with a GAA of 2.27 and a save percentage of .941. This includes a remarkable 53-save performance against the Kalamazoo Wings on Thursday.
Fellow Ottawa Senators prospects Chris Driedger got one start, registering a GAA of 2.00 and a save percentage of .933. But it’s ECHL goaltender Andrew D’Agostini who outdid himself by allowing less than two goals per 60 minutes played and sporting a save percentage of .944 in his two starts.
Andrew D'Agostini has 37 saves so far today including this beauty of a stop!— ECHL (@ECHL) November 12, 2017
He & @BramptonBeast are headed to OT with @ECHLThunder - tune in on https://t.co/RDjVzhzDKj! pic.twitter.com/JMXAqDWtuu
Roster turnover added some key elements
Roughly half the team has changed since the start of the season, the result of call-ups, injuries, and releases.
One of the catalysts for the recent success has been the signing of former Toronto Marlies captain Alex Foster to a contract.
Foster came back to North America after six seasons spent overseas, playing for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech elite league, then hopping from the DEL (Germany) to the EBEL (Austria) to the EIHL (UK) before trying his chances with the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush to start the season. He was released by the Rush in early November, at which point the Beast snapped him up. In five games with the Rush, Foster only collected a single assist, but after six games with the Beast he has four goals and two assists.
Part of Foster’s success comes from centring the Beast’s best player this season, captain Brandon Marino. Marino has 17 points in 17 games, with seven points coming on th current six-game streak.
Marino led the team in scoring two seasons ago with 41 points, and boosted that total to 72 last season, with the help of two of the league’s top scorers: David Vallorani and David Pacan.
This season Marino is showing that the point-per-game rate was not artificially inflated as he’s on pace to match that this season, despite those linemates no longer being on the team.
Beast captain Brandon Marino led the Beast to victory with the club's first overtime winner of the season against Kalamazoo on Thursday. It's only fitting that he's today's @BDO_Canada First Call! #RoarAsOne pic.twitter.com/eGbdmpGIqh— Brampton Beast (@BramptonBeast) November 24, 2017
Firepower from the defence
Where the Beast are getting added support offensively this season is from the blue line. In fact, four of the top eight point-getters thus far are defencemen, with rookie Matt Petgrave putting up five goals and adding seven assists for 12 points. He’s tied with Willie Corrin, who leads the team in assists with 11. Reggie Traccitto and Jordan Henry complete the list with nine points apiece.
Jordan has been especially strong during the six-game winning streak, putting up five points, and showing a +6 goal differential, tied with Marino and Foster during this span.
Meanwhile Corrin has earned himself a PTO contract with the Laval Rocket after appearing at their training camp this past fall.
BREAKING: Beast defenseman Willie Corrin has signed a PTO with the @RocketLaval Best of luck, Willie! #RoarAsOne pic.twitter.com/CFmKyEt3dW— Brampton Beast (@BramptonBeast) November 24, 2017
No Habs representation lately; Senators aplenty
The Corrin transaction was essentially one of the last depth moves available to the Rocket. With the departure of Martin Réway, and the recalls of Byron Froese, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Charlie Lindgren, the Laval Rocket were forced to recall from loan all the players they had assigned to the Beast, including Jordan Boucher, Yannick Veilleux, Thomas Ebbing, and McNiven. This is certainly a far cry from the five-to-six players who were signed to NHL/AHL contracts within the Canadiens organization who were expected to suit up for the Beast at various points during the season.
Meanwhile the Ottawa/Belleville Senators are making the most of their unofficial partnership with the Beast by sending numerous prospects to get some game action. Besides goaltenders Hogberg and Driedger, the Senators have so far sent defencemen Maxime Lajoie, Jordan Murray, Macoy Erkamps, and Cody Donaghey to play for the Beast.
The Beast will continue playing at home, with six of their next eight games before Christmas being played at the Powerade Centre. They need to continue finding success for these games, as right after they head on their longest road trip of the season: a seven-game journey that spans the holiday season.
The Beast should be getting a goaltender back from Laval soon, with Charlie Lindgren returning to be the Rocket’s starter. The most likely candidate is McNiven, however there is an outside chance that Zachary Fucale gets the sign. Fucale has struggled with endurance of late, keeping the Rocket in games initially with Lindgren recalled, but then faltering with prolonged responsibility. Whichever goalie does end up getting sent down, he will have to compete for ice time with Hogberg and D’Agostini.