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Bakersfield Condors vs. Texas Stars Game Report: So you’re saying there’s a chance?

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Photo credit:twitter.com/Condors
Bruce Curlock
22 days ago
The Bakersfield Condors arrived in Austin, Texas on Friday to play its last two games before the AHL All-Star break. The break is the defacto end of the first half of the season.
For some Condors, such as Raphael Lavoie, Philip Broberg and Olivier Rodrigue, it’s been a great first half and a well-earned break. For others like Jayden Grubbe, Max Wanner, Matvey Petrov, and Carter Savoie, the first half showed glimpses of what might be coming, and I’m sure those players might want to keep playing. However, for one particular player, I’m certain he wants to forget his first half and just start over as soon as possible.
It’s not that Xavier Bourgault has played poorly. The 2021 first-rounder is playing a lot in all situations. He gets big minutes at even strength. He plays on the second powerplay and he also plays a healthy dose of penalty kill. He’s been energetic on the forecheck. He has excellent stick skills that get put to use in all situations. He is absolutely not afraid to put himself in harm’s way, similar to how Ales Hemsky used to play for the Oilers.
What has made his first half miserable is his scoring totals of 6-10—16 in 37 games. These are far from the lofty heights expected from a player who was drafted as an elite offensive forward out of the QMJHL. He is on pace to finish with fewer points than his rookie year in Bakersfield. To give you more context, his teammate from Shawinigan, Maverik Bourque, who plays for Texas, is 16-32—48 in 40 games with Texas. These two were very comparable in junior as scoring forwards. So while many Condors were likely relishing their first half, Bourgault likely was looking for a reset.
Last night though, a weird thing happened on the way to a reset. Bourgault, at least for one game, started to score. In a game in which he was the best player on the ice for either team, he reminded everyone of his potential and at the same helped his team squeeze out a 5-3 victory over the offensive juggernaut that is the Texas Stars.
The game started with a bang for the Condors. They were all over the Texas Stars, outshooting the much more offensive team by a total of 14-4 in the first period. Despite that, the Stars opened the scoring on their first shot of the game. Here is the clip and it involves two young players who are really playing well, Max Wanner and Jayden Grubbe, who show their inexperience.
You will see on three occasions, these two had a chance to move the puck up the zone without a great degree of pressure. They failed to do so and ultimately turned it over. The play then ends with a poor play by Raphael Lavoie who fails to recognize the danger in the slot and watches as the Texas Stars score the opening goal of the game.

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For Wanner and Grubbe, they will learn. For Lavoie, when you are trying to crack the bottom six of an NHL roster, you cannot make these types of plays.
Now that did not deter the Condors. Indeed, the start of the Bourgault show came five minutes and on the penalty kill. The Condors use him in this situation a lot. The reason is he has great anticipation of where plays are going, he’s quick getting there and also a very good stick to defend. Bourgault does all of this on the Condors penalty kill in the first period and evened the score.

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The Condors continued to dominant the pace of play through two periods, outshooting the Stars by a total of 27-10, but could not break free from the Stars. Indeed, the Stars made it 3-2 early in the second off this beautiful counterattack and three-way passing play. Unfortunately for two players who need to play good defensive hockey, James Hamblin and Raphael Lavoie, it was not their finest moment.

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Again, these are effort plays. With the entire OEG team on All-Star break and likely watching, I don’t think these are the types of plays you want to make.
Fortunately, the Condors got that one back on a very nice play by Hamblin and Wanner. The play started in the Condors zone with a tough puck handling sequence by Wanner, who struggled some with the pace of the Stars tonight and their forecheck scheme. He is bailed out by his partner, Marcus Niemelainen, who gets the puck out. Hamblin shows his quicks on the forecheck and makes a great play to recover the loose puck. He builds on that with an even better read to get the puck to Wanner who hustled all the way down the ice to finish the attack in style.

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Not Phil Kemp and not Vinny Desharnais. Only Michael Kesselring exhibited this type of offensive attack. Max Wanner is twenty years old. This is a prospect to watch.
The Condors finally took the lead on a great Seth Griffith powerplay goal later in the second. It starts with a very patient play by Raphael Lavoie under a two player forecheck in the Stars zone. He turns his body to protect the puck and instead of panicking and moving the puck, he simply outwaits the Stars players and dishes to Pederson who is in spacing and moving. Pederson does most of the rest with a great read of Griffith back door for the tap-in.

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The third period was a tense affair with the Condors trying to hold on to its narrow lead. Despite some very good chances, Olivier Rodrigue held his ground stopping all 14 shots by Texas in the third. The Condors finally finished off the Stars with another great play by Bourgault. Watch his stick skills and then his patience once he turns the puck over. He makes a great feed to James Hamblin who scores the empty net goal.

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On the night, James Hamblin finished 1-2—3 with three shots on goal. He was certainly quiet after being sent back to the AHL, but his scoring is starting to bounce back. I remain convinced if he could just get a bit stronger, there is a solid NHL fourth line center in this player.
However, the player of the game was Bourgault with a goal and an assist. His game could have been even better. Take a look at a couple of more plays by Bourgault that could have resulted in points.

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Bourgault had a tremendous game, and if he can match his performance last night in the back half of the two-game series with the Stars, maybe, just maybe, we will see the Bourgault everyone predicted in the second half.
One last note about this game. The kid line of Grubbe, Petrov and Savoie had another great game. They were promoted to a third line tonight as a group and did not disappoint. While they did not register a point amongst them, they were very good all night. Their disciplined forecheck gave the Stars a lot of trouble in their own zone. Here is one great clip from the game of their effectiveness.

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The Condors are back at it tonight against the Stars. Their last game before a six day break. The team plays ten games in 19 days when they return, so this rest will be needed.
That’s it for the game report, folks; see you back again tomorrow with not one but two articles for your Sunday reading. Have a great day.

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