The five-day Traverse City Rookie Tournament began today with eight teams taking the ice and playing in four highly-entertaining contests. The Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues are repeat participants in the tournament, joining the newcomer Carolina Hurricanes.
The tournament is set up so that each team plays one game against the three other teams in their conference, and then on the final day, each team in the Eastern Conference plays the team with the same standing in the Western Conference to determine the first through seventh place.
Today’s games included Western Conference rivals Columbus against Minnesota and St. Louis against Dallas. The Eastern Conference battles were between the NY Rangers and Carolina and Detroit and Atlanta.
Prior to the games, every team except the Rangers skated for approximately an hour in practice drills. The Rangers’ team coach, Ken Gernander, felt that this did not put his team at a disadvantage as the team did skate together for an hour before leaving for Michigan on Saturday.
Final score: Minnesota 2, Columbus 1
In the first game of the tournament, the Wild prospects met those of the Blue Jackets. Because both teams are comprised of mostly tryouts/invitees, a less skill-oriented game was expected from them. From the opening moments of the game, it was high-energy and chippy, with lots of tough play. Both teams were finishing their checks all over the ice, which drew loud cheers of approval from the large crowd.
Other excitement in this game included a delay of the last 6:06 of the second period until the start of the third period due to a pane of glass in front of the scorer’s table that shattered onto the ice, and the only fight of the day, a battle between Tim Miller and heavyweight Justin Falk which ended quickly.
Minnesota put 41 shots on net in the contest, and while many were not of high quality, the Blue Jackets two netminders turned away all but two. Andrew Loverock, the former OHL Sudbury Wolves netminder and now free-agent camp tryout was excellent in facing and turning away all 20 shots he faced. Judging from his performance both this morning in practice and this afternoon in the game, Loverock should get a good look in Columbus’ main camp.
Two other Blue Jackets’ players also drew attention. Stefan Legein and Matt Calvert both played very well. Legein, who scored the team’s only goal, was quite impressive. A smooth skater, he is very patient with the puck, and then has an excellent release on a sneaky shot. Calvert put forth a huge amount of effort today and was rewarded when after he negated an icing, he put the puck on Legein’s stick to register the Blue Jackets only goal.
For the Wild, the most impressive player on the ice was OHL Plymouth Whalers goaltender and Minnesota’s third-round selection in this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, Matt Hackett. But not far behind was defenseman Tyler Cuma, who had the primary assist on Minnesota’s first goal in the third period. Free agent Brendan Buck, who exhibited some smooth skating in the morning practice, scored the game winning goal for the Wild at 10:56 of the third period.
Lines for the game
Final score: Carolina 5, New York 3
The Hurricanes dominated this game for the first two periods, and had it not been for the outstanding play of Rangers goalie Scott Stajcer, the game would have been out of reach for the Blueshirts at the end of 20 minutes.
Carolina looked like a top team in this tournament from the opening face off, as the Canes top line of Zach Boychuk, Brandon Sutter, and Matt Kennedy were flying down the ice. Rolling all four lines, the Canes had players on each line that stood out.
The Rangers, on the other hand, looked weak for most of the game, taking penalties and missing assignments. It was Stajcer’s play that kept it close enough for New York to come back in the third period. After Boychuk put Carolina up by two at 4:08 of the period, during the next minute, it was all Rangers. In a span of 21 seconds, the Blueshirts were able to record two goals, and the game was tied with only a little less than 15 minutes left.
Camp invitee Elgin Reid, a former ECHL Wheeling Nailer, put in Carolina’s fifth goal late in the period and locked up the game for the Canes. Then team’s 2007 first round selection Brandon Sutter put the game away at 19:26 with an empty netter.
Other Canes that looked good in the game included defenseman Jamie McBain, who is excellent along the blueline and sees the ice very well, as well as captain Nick Dodge who did nothing spectacular, but played a solid game in both ends.
Besides Stajcer, Ryan Bourque showed speed and finesse in his play tonight. The fourth line of Daniel Bartek, Roman Horak, and Luke Walker was successful playing off each other, and those players were used more often as the game went along. Finally, to be successful in this tournament, Rangers top prospect Evgeny Grachev has to be dominant on the ice. However, he did not come anywhere near that level of play, and although he demonstrated some excellent speed and moves twice tonight, he must play that way consistently for the Rangers to be a factor here.
Lines for the game
Carolina New York
Bowman-Terry-Dodge (C) Chappell-Crowder-Weise (C)
Jordan-Bellemore Del Zotto-Maggio
Final score: St Louis 9, Dallas 6
This high scoring affair was a pretty even game, which featured good hitting, and for a time, some speedy transitions. St Louis is a very talented team, with their most offensive player at the tournament, Aaron Palushaj, really displaying his skills tonight. The former University of Michigan star scored the game winner, a go-ahead goal early in the third period, and assisted on the first goal of the game. Although Palushaj still has to round out the defensive side of his game, and work on his discipline (he took an untimely penalties in both the second and third periods), he has the potential to be a regular producer at the NHL level.
Palushaj’s linemate, and WHL star, Brett Sonne, was also very impressive. With a goal and an assist in the game, Sonne is excellent on the power play, with good skating skills, an excellent release on his shot, and good offensive instincts.
On the Blues blueline, much is expected of Alex Pietrangelo, who quarterbacked the power play for St. Louis tonight, and is considered the team’s No. 1 defenseman. Pietrangelo was noticeable, but mostly for his passing, and ease with the puck. Although he did not spark the team’s offense, he still may do so by tournament’s end.
Dallas got behind early in this game, and was just outplayed by an all-around better team. But the Stars made a game of it, and were actually in the game until the last minute.
Standouts for Dallas include defensive blueline tryout Zak Stebner, who was very solid in his own zone, and the line of Michael Neal, Mathieu Tousignant, and Sergei Korostin, high-energy players who were constantly making things happen on the ice.
Stars prospect Jamie Benn had a tough night, both on the ice and with injury, because although he returned later, Benn was writhing in pain on the bench after he injured his right leg at approximately 10 minutes in the third period.
Lines for the game
St. Louis Dallas
Final score: Detroit 6, Atlanta 4
In a very exciting final game of the day, the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Atlanta Thrashers in an improbable late-game win. The Thrashers jumped out to a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period, and continued to lead through the second period. But that was before the last period five-goal onslaught, which had the Red Wings winning by the score of 6-4. The best players on the ice in this game were Detroit’s top line, Tomas Tatar, Cory Emmerton, and Jan Mursak, which accounted for three points on three different goals in the last 12:46 of regulation.
Francis Pare, who is older than most of the players on either team in this game, was excellent on the ice today. In addition to his three assists, Pare was +4. Although not that noticeable on the ice, however, he was quietly making the right plays at the right time.
Andrew Kozek, who had a goal and an assist, was the player of the game for the Thrashers. He was steady, with the ability to contribute offensively and play on both sides of the puck.
Lines for the game
Lashoff-Pyett Kulda-Postma (C)