Day 3 of the 2009 Traverse City Prospects Tournament determined the standing for the placement and championship games. The Carolina Hurricanes will play the Minnesota Wild in the championship game, while the NY Rangers will play St. Louis Blues in the third-place game. The Columbus Blue Jackets will play the Atlanta Thrashers in the last-place game.
The Stars won their first game of the tournament today. After getting lit up on Sunday, Richard Bachman came back with a solid effort, only surrendering three goals on 38 shots. This game also awakened Sergei Korostin‘s scoring prowess. He scored first in the contest, and then a critical goal in the third period. Looking much better tonight was Dallas’ top forward prospect Jamie Benn. While he remains scoreless in this tournament, today he showed some of the offensive upside that made such a valuable draft pick. His vision and passing creativity were very much evident.
Matt Calvert continues to roll. His two goals this afternoon allowed Columbus to draw even with Dallas in the first minute of the third period. Calvert was all over the ice, however, his unnecessary holding penalty when the score was tied and there were only 3:12 seconds left in the third may just have cost Columbus the game. The penalty came as the result of being tired at the end of a long shift.
The game was peppered with a competitive ferocity not seen elsewhere in the tournament. There were 74 penalty minutes in the game, including four separate fights.
The story of this game was that after two stellar performances for Carolina, goaltender Mike Murphy proved that he’s human and grows tired after two games on consecutive nights. The day off on Tuesday was not actually a day off since Murphy had a full practice.
From the first shot on goal against the Thrashers, it was clear that Murphy was not up to par. Carolina was expected to win this game handily, after having beaten the Rangers and Red Wings. But they had nothing to play for, because they had already clinched a spot in the finals. Murphy lasted two periods in net, and then Alain Valiquette took over for the third period. Murphy surrendered two goals in 32 shots and Valiquette surrendered four on 13 shots. While Murphy’s save percentage doesn’t look bad, his play was otherwise. There were several posts hit on shots that had beaten him.
One player on each team stood out today. The dynamic Zach Boychuk demonstrated why he is the top prospect in the organization. With an amazingly quick release, Boychuk has been surprising goaltenders all tournament. When combined with his vision, and his breakaway skating ability, Boychuk is one of the stars of this tournament, and perhaps the most NHL-ready.
Recent acquisition Eric O’Dell proved on the ice today that Atlanta made a good move trading for him earlier this year. With two late goals, one on the power play and one shorthanded, O’Dell put the topping on Atlanta’s only win. He created a lot of the Thrashers’ offense the entire game.
St. Louis Blues 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (shootout)
This game was the most exciting of the day. Minnesota tied the score at three goals apiece with three seconds left, and went on to lose in the shootout. Aaron Palushaj had three assists and scored the winner in the shootout. But Anthony Nigro, who eventually sacrificed his lower body for the game, had two goals and one assist and played in all situations to help St. Louis in its eventual victory. Most impressive was Nigro continuing to defend his own zone on the penalty kill late in the third period while writhing in pain. His character was obvious to all those in attendance.
Jake Allen faced 34 shots and surrendered just three goals, including one by Minnesota’s Zach Torquato with just three seconds left in regulation with an extra attacker. Allen’s coverage of the net and challenging of the shooter were impressive.
An unexpected steady performer today was St. Louis’ 2009 second-round selection Brett Ponich. Poised along the blue line, Ponich’s rapid adjustment also impressed Blues President John Davidson.
"Ponich has come in here and done well playing a difficult position," he said.
NY Rangers 4, Detroit Red Wings 3
The Rangers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in this mostly one-sided contest. After looking like the best-skating team in the tourney for two games, Detroit came out totally flat tonight. On the other hand, the Rangers came out shooting, putting 16 shots on net in the first period.
Having been scratched in the last game, Paul Crowder centered the Rangers top line and did an admirable job all night. Because of his good play, Evgeny Grachev and Dale Weise had chance after chance to put the puck in the Red Wings net. Neither was able to convert, but it was no reflection on Crowder’s performance.
Defenseman Brian Lashoff continues to have an excellent tournament. Of particular note in this game was him saving a sure empty-net goal and then turning around and scoring the Wings’ final goal with less than 30 seconds left.
Roman Horak continues to impress in his first year at the tournament. While he didn’t put numbers up on the scoresheet, his solid work in both zones, in all situations, was very noticeable. Also noticeable was the work of Chad Johnson in net. The former Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks netminder saved 32 of 35 shots on the night, plus a penalty shot. Very strong down low and willing to go out to challenge the shooter on almost every shot, Johnson has been solid in both of his appearances here in Traverse City.
Leslie Treff and Holly Gunning contributed to this report.