By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
Matt Puempel loves to score goals.
John Gibson’s blood stirs when he is stonewalling shooters.
Well, his pleasure comes in the form of a dot, the faceoff dot, where the second-year Kitchener Rangers centre takes a ton of pride in shooting down the top triggermen on opposing teams.
“I like being the guy they turn to (in order) to win the draw,” said the 18-year-old Ottawa native. “I want to continue to do that. For some guys it’s making a save, or scoring in a shootout, but for me it’s winning draws in the last minute.
“To have the coaching staff put you in that situation and believe in you, that’s a good feeling.”
It was a telling sign earlier this month, after a pair of trades with the Sudbury Wolves and Peterborough Petes, when head coach and general manager Steve Spott singled out Meighan for his play up the middle, particularly on the defensive side of the game.
On a team that had just acquired a top scorer in Josh Leivo and much-needed power winger in Derek Schoenmakers, Spott had a lot of line juggling to do. But he didn’t flinch with Meighan.
With his quick hands, keen defensive acumen and ability to kill penalties, the second-year forward was still going to play a crucial defensive role.
“Any coach has certain players that you feel comfortable with when you put them out on the ice,” Spott said. “Curtis is that guy. When he’s out on the ice, you’re kind of looking at your next guy to go. Because when he’s out there, he’s probably going to manage the puck well.”
But it is in the faceoff circle where Meighan does his best work.
On a good night, a top centre will win about 60 per cent of their draws, associate coach Paul Fixter said. But against the Petes a couple weeks ago, Meighan won 18 of the 20 faceoffs he lined up for.
“That’s unheard of, almost unbelievable,” Fixter said. “That’s not the norm. But his skill set is suited toward winning faceoffs. He has great hand-eye co-ordination and anticipation, studies his opponents and the officials — what they like in the circle and they way they drop the puck — and watches a lot of video.
“He takes a lot of pride in what he does.”
It takes just a few seconds to win a draw, but plenty of details go into Meighan’s craft, which he started cultivating two seasons ago under former head coach Paul Flindall in Tier 2 Jr. A with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Cumberland Grads.
As soon as his opponent steps off the bench, Meighan is formulating a plan. Where are they holding their stick? Are they taking the draw on their forehand or backhand? Where are their feet positioned? Is there a pattern forming?
He even observes the linemen.
“Usually the refs are pretty strict in this league,” He said. “They make sure you’re all straight and not cheating. But you always try to get that little bit extra on your opponent and just hope the ref doesn’t see it.”
But there is natural talent there too.
“He’s a natural at winning faceoffs, he’s a natural at killing penalties,” teammate Josh Sterk said.
“I don’t know. He’s just The Natural.”
Meighan is also a natural at plucking nicknames for his teammates out of thin air. For Sterk, it was Sterkie Turkey. For former captain Michael Catenacci, it was Cadillac.
“The things he says just come out of the blue,” Sterk said.
However, there are areas of improvement for Meighan to work on.
With six goals and 19 assists in 112 games, an improved offensive arsenal would be welcome, but that may be developing. With the Rangers reeling from a slew of injuries and world junior absences, Meighan stepped into an expanded role in late December and piled up seven points in a six-game span in late December.
That has helped the Eastern Ontario Wild product set OHL highs in assists (13) and points (15) this season as well.
The challenge from here on out is to try and keep that production going, because the Rangers already know they have an ace in the faceoff circle.
“If he can do that, he really is a complete player,” Spott said.