Eight NHL teams have traveled north, almost to the top of Michigan, to bring some of their best prospects to a five-day rookie tournament in Traverse City. In the morning, all the teams the tournament were in full swing, with each of the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, the Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and Tampa Bay Lightning taking the ice to prepare for the tournament. Last year’s winner, the New York Rangers, came to Traverse City last night with high expectations of defending their 2007 tournament title.
It was a festive atmosphere all day at the Centre ICE facility, and a huge number of fans turned out for the games. As expected, many were cheering for the host Red Wings, and they packed the rink for Detroit’s game against New York this evening.
As in previous years, the games are scheduled one half hour apart and played on twin rinks. This makes it impossible to watch every minute of every game played, forcing people to shuttle back and forth during breaks in periods to check on the game on the other rink.
This year marks the first time that the NHL Network is present at one of the two rinks. They will show all the games on that rink on a tape delay basis. In addition to the NHL, there is a strong media presence in house generally. In fact, as of this morning 150 media passes had been requested.
The bit of news this morning was that Minnesota invitee, Jordan Mistelbacher, was sent home for failing to pass the physical examination given by the doctors in residence. After suffering several injuries this summer, from which he had not completely recovered, it was discovered today that Mistelbacher also has a back ailment. Given Mistelbacher’s medical condition, the Wild decided to send him home.
Tampa Bay v Atlanta
In a game starting at 3pm, the Thrashers beat the Lightning 1-0. It was the first game of the tournament, which might explain why this game had a lack of intensity that made the 60 minutes drag out, but this was not an exciting matchup. Atlanta scored at 14:56 of the first period on a shot from the point, which was awarded to Paul Postma, but getting a piece of it in front was Tomas Pospisil. It was the entire scoring for game. No fights, no real excitement, though there were 16 penalties. There were a few bright spots, however, as several rookies stood out among their peers. For Atlanta, the two skaters who really attracted positive attention were Riley Holzapfel and Angelo Esposito. Holzapfel demonstrated excellent speed and very good anticipation of the play. Linemate Esposito at times made it clear that he had by far the best offensive skills of all the players on the ice. His puckhandling was electrifying and the release on his shot is one of the fastest in this tournament. Additionally, while was less than impressive in the morning practice, he played an excellent game in net against Tampa Bay, and got the shutout win with 26 saves. The best player on the ice for Tampa Bay was netminder Dustin Tokarski, who showed poise and confidence between the pipes.
Danick Paquette left the game early with what is likely a bruised hip and did not return.
Minnesota v Columbus
As low-intensity as the Lighting/Thrasher game was, the Wild/ Blue Jackets game was full of drama and hitting. The Blue Jackets won the contest 4-3 in a shootout, but every minute of the game was exciting and well played. Cal Clutterbuck, Justin Hodgman and Scott Wasden all had goals for Minnesota, however, the best player on the ice was Tyler Cuma, the Wild’s first-round selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The blueliner was everywhere — hitting, make the smart play, using his stick to force turnovers, taking the lead and playing within himself. For Columbus, the best player on the ice was free agent Blair Yaworski, surprising though it might be, given that he was playing on a team that also featured Jakub Voracek and Maksim Mayorov. Yawoski recorded one goal, the Blue Jackets’ first of the game, where he dragged his toe and then released an excellent shot high over the netminder’s shoulder. This was not an isolated incident, as he released a second shot with the same finesse, but it was stopped by the Wild netminder. As for Voracek and Mayorov, Voracek tried to do too much on the ice. Clearly extremely talented, if he had simplified his game, Voracek would have been very successful. Mayorov, for his part, was completely invisible. While once or twice his outstanding speed became apparent, as quickly as it was flashed, it disappeared.
Dallas v St Louis
The Stars defeated the Blues 4-3 in a game that saw St Louis players in a continual march to the sin bin. Of the ten penalties called during the game, seven were called on the Blues, including five in a row. Although Dallas did not score any power-play goals in the game, the calls would at least partially explain the fact that St. Louis only managed 19 shots in the entire game. President of Hockey Operations John Davidson was clearly agitated when he spoke to Hockey’s Future after the game. He pointed out the lopsided number of penalties called, and then went on to say that winning wasn’t really the reason that the Blues were at the tournament.
"It gives our prospects the chance to see what playing is like at the next level," he said. " [Patrik] Berglund, [T.J.] Oshie, [Alex] Pietrangelo, all have played well, and have learned something coming to this tournament. That is what we come; this tournament really helps them to prepare for the next level."
Berglund was an exciting player whenever he had the puck, looking very strong and solid. With the addition of his ability to protect the puck, as well as excellent release, watch for him to improve his already good play at the tournament continues. Also standing out for the Blues was Oshie, who has excellent stickwork, as well as a very fast release. Finally, Pietrangelo, who missed last spring’s OHL playoffs and Blues Development camp because of his injury. Not wanting to rush him back, the team is being very patient with acclimating the blueliner to professional hockey. While not ruling out Pietrangelo’s making the NHL club out of camp, Davidson said it was "a longshot," but added that "they are all longshots at that age."
Dallas has a team of more experienced players, a situation that Davidson thinks contributed to their victory. The Stars team played a disciplined, hard-working game and came away with an excellent victory.
In the most one-sided game of the day, the Red Wings defeated the Rangers 4-0. Corey Emmerton posted two goals and one assist, with excellent nights also put in by Justin Abdelkader and Zac Torquato. Both young men were all over the net, crashing it, clearing it, and providing screens for goals.
As for New York, it was hard to find positives. Hartford Wolf Pack Head Coach and General Manager Ken Gernander was clearly unhappy at the result. Certain players were called into the coaches office after the game and told what was expected of them next game. Gernander, however, said, "I am not going to single people out to place blame or to receive accolades when we lose 4-0." Gernander went on to say that although he has not yet decided on all the changes for the next game, netminder Antoine Lafleur will be between the pipes.
The schedule of practices and games continues tomorrow. Monday is a day of only optional practices, while Tuesday will be the last day of round-robin play. On Wednesday, the gold medal winner of the tournament will be determined.