The Traverse City Rookie Tournament is only halfway completed and already there are tournament heroes. Without question, the best player of the tournament has been Carolina Hurricanes netminder Mike Murphy. With two wins in two games, Murphy is thus far single-handedly held off both the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, who tonight bombarded him with shots from all angles.
Murphy is only 5’11", but he covers the net so well, and has such quick reflexes and lateral movement, that it makes it extremely hard to beat him. Rebounds left in the slot can be his Achilles’ heel, but Murphy even shuts that down when the game is on the line. The young netminder is the talk of the tournament.
Also a star here in Northern Michigan is Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Matt Calvert. Columbus’s fifth round selection (127th overall) in 2008, Calvert has brought his WHL scoring touch to Traverse City, where on Monday he had a hat trick in Columbus’ game against the St. Louis Blues. It was the tournament’s first three-goal performance, and Calvert is now tied for the tournament points lead with Tomas Tatar and Francis Pare of the Detroit Red Wings. Each of the three players has four points, but Calvert is the only one with three goals to his name.
As for the standings, at the half-way point of the tournament, Carolina leads the Eastern Conference (which is not totally unexpected), while Minnesota heads the Western Conference (a complete surprise). Each team has won both of their games. The Wild have played the best hockey, holding their opposition to just a total of two goals in two games. Minnesota’s goaltending tandem of Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper has worked extremely well between the pipes over the last two days, providing the excellent opportunities for its low-scoring offense to win games. Much like its NHL team, the Wild prospects play a hard-hitting, very defensive game, led by its outstanding blueliner Tyler Cuma. Although Cuma has not put up the numbers of the tourney’s top forwards, and received 12 minutes in penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct today, he has a heavy shot and the vision to be able to distribute the puck calmly and on a timely basis on the ice. A future team leader, Cuma is one of the brightest stars of Traverse City.
Both Carolina and Minnesota will remain atop the standings for at least one more day, because although there will be morning practices at the rink Tuesday, there are no games scheduled. On Wednesday the games resume and the teams will have one more game to change their position to battle for the tournament championship.
Final score: Minnesota 2, Dallas 1
This was a battle of the netminders, as Kuemper and Tyler Beskorowany were both excellent between the pipes. Beskorowany faced 31 shots and Kuemper saw 26, but each goalie only gave up one goal in regulation. The extra five-minute overtime resulted in no decision, so the game went to the tournament’s first shootout. The five-shooter format is used here, and with the goaltenders in top form, both teams took all five shots before a winner was determined. Minnesota’s Kris Foucault, a fourth-round selection in this past summer’s draft, decided the game by shooting the puck past Beskorowany. Foucault was an unlikely hero, but a happy one after the game.
Another blueliner, Ivan Vishnevskiy, was a standout for the Dallas Stars today. Not only was his shot excellent, but Vishnevskiy was very solid in his own end. This was not so in the Stars first contest against St. Louis on Sunday, but he returned to the high level of play expected of him on Monday.
Several players on these two teams have not yet hit their stride, not the least of which is Zack Torquato. Here with the Wild on a tryout basis, Torquato had been drafted by Detroit in the sixth round of the 2007 entry draft and then later released. This is his chance to prove that Detroit made a mistake, but thus far he has been a non-factor. Torquato has played on the top line during the Wild’s both games, and is being given every opportunity to shine, but thus far, has not been able to create any offense. It is, however, just half way through the tournament.
Also not on the scoring sheet is one of Dallas’s top prospects, Jamie Benn. After leading last year’s tournament in scoring, Benn has been shut out so far in 2009. However, nothing should be read into that fact as on Sunday, he suffered a minor leg injury, which kept him on the bench for a good portion of the game. He was then injured again Monday. It was nothing serious, but enough to keep the top-line forward off his game. Dallas, which is at the bottom of the Western Conference after two games, will need Benn to lead the team on Wednesday and Thursday, if they want to make a good showing here in Traverse City. Either way this is an exciting fall for Benn, who has a good chance of cracking the NHL roster out of training camp.
Lines for today’s game
Pisano-Knotek-Mackay Neal-St. Denis-Devergilio
Final score: New York 4, Atlanta 1
With this loss this afternoon, the Thrashers fall to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Things will not get easier either, as Atlanta will have to face the conference leading Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.
The Thrashers did jump out to a 1-0 lead against the Rangers on a goal scored by Atlanta’s top prospect in Traverse City, Evander Kane. Kane has been playing on the first line with Eric O’Dell and Jeremy Morin, but thus far, the three of them have only been able to put up four points in the Thrashers two games. Kane has two goals, but he has also taken critical penalties, which have hurt his team. More is expected of these three, especially of Morin, and Atlanta’s top line must get going if team hopes to finish anywhere but last in this tournament. Kane’s goal on Tuesday was scored on a scramble play on about the third rebound.
Although Atlanta got the first goal of the game, the Rangers looked good from the first minute of the contest, racing up and down the ice creating chances, and eventually scoring four unanswered goals to take the win.
The best player on the ice for the Rangers in this game was Michael Del Zotto. Although his name does not appear on the scoresheet and, in fact, he was minus one, he had an excellent game. His confidence with and without the puck, leading the team by creating chances, was apparent all afternoon. Also impressive was recent draftee Roman Horak, who opened eyes in the first game, and continued to give a solid effort and show his offensive wizardry in today’s contest. Horak, who has recently begun his North American major junior career with the WHL Chilliwack Bruins, looks to be solid offensive contributor there and in New York in the future. With speed and creativity, Horak is somewhat of a surprise in Traverse City.
Evgeny Grachev was plus four in today’s contest, but still has not been as visible as was expected in this tournament. There were moments today where he looked like he would break out and be the star of the game, but he was more of a behind the scenes contributor than the scoresheet indicates.
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New York Atlanta
Del Zotto-Maggio Chiarot-Postma
Final score: Columbus 5, St. Louis 4
The score does not really tell the story of this game, in which the Blue Jackets produced in the first two periods and then held on in the third. From the first minute, when Matt Calvert scored his first of three goals, St. Louis was on its heels. Columbus put puck after puck on the net in the first period, and it did not help that Blues netminder Peter DiSalvo was not at his best in net.
It was the play of Calvert and new linemate Tomas Kubalik who sparked the offense for Columbus in this game. In the first game, Calvert had been on a line with Stefan Legein and the two played well together then. However, the Blue Jackets changed lines after a loss, and Calvert and Kubalik really showed some chemistry in this game.
But St. Louis is an excellent, highly-talented team, and even when they were down 4-1 in the third period, they did not give up. The Blues top offensive rookie here, former University of Michigan standout Aaron Palushaj, scored a goal at 4:17 of the third, and the game turned around. For the second day in a row, tryout Jack Combs, the free agent former OHL Saginaw Spirit winger looked very good on the ice. Always known to be able to put the puck in the net, Combs had two assists. Whether or not his skating will be good enough to make the NHL is still a question, but Combs has been impressive here in Traverse City.
This was the most contentious game thus far in the tournament. It was apparent very early that these two teams do not like each other. There were both fighting majors and roughing minors handed out throughout the game. In all, 70 minutes of penalties were assessed in this contest, which was a handful for the referees, who did an admirable job keeping this battle under control.
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St. Louis Columbus
Final score: Carolina 5, Detroit 3
The most entertaining of the contests today, Carolina netminder Mike Murphy put on a real show tonight. The Red Wings dominated this contest, putting shot upon shot on the Canes net, only to be turned away by Murphy. The rink was packed with fans and more scouts than any other game.
The Red Wings have a finely-tuned offense and deserved more in this game, but Murphy was a stone wall for much of the contest, holding the Red Wings at bay until the Canes could score. Unfortunately for Detroit, its netminder, Jordan Pearce, was not on his game tonight, and he let in several soft goals that cost the Red Wings this game.
To watch Murphy play was a delight, as he is so strong down low that he is almost unbeatable there. The Canes’ Brandon Sutter is clearly ready for NHL play. He is much mature in his play than any rookie in Traverse City, and was a pleasure to watch.
For the Red Wings, recent draftee Tomas Tatar was one of the game’s special players. For the highly gifted winger, who can skate and handle the puck with ease, this tournament has been a showcase for his talents. Defenseman Brian Lashoff also performed well on the ice tonight. Very calm with the puck, and with good vision, Lashoff has grown in his game since being signed as a free agent last year.
Although this is a rookie tournament, and the Red Wings wanted to see at least two of the three goaltenders it brought to Hockeytown North, by starting Pearce tonight, Detroit effectively eliminated their chances to win this event. Thomas McCollum is clearly their top prospect here and is likely to be back in net the rest of the way.
Lines for today’s game