NHL 2010 rookie tournament off to rousing and tragic start

By Jason Menard

The NHL 2010 rookie tournament got off to an auspicious start this weekend with a serious injury overshadowing a pair of solid games to kick off the 2010-11 NHL pre-season. While the games ended with similar scores, they couldn’t have been more different.

In the first game, a smallish crowd watched the Penguins’ rookies defeat the Senators’ youngsters 5-3 — a score that was generous for the boys (soon-to-be) from Binghamton. A pair of goals each from prospects Zach Sill and Dustin Jeffrey paced the Pittsburgh squad, which overcame a late flurry by the Senators’, including a goal by Eric Gryba that cut the lead to 4-3 with just over a minute to go.

But while the Penguins went home happy with the result, they did so with heavy hearts following a horrific injury early in the first period. Alex Grant was taken to a local hospital after a scary incident in their own end. Grant was propelled into the boards head-first by David Dziurzynski, who received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for this actions. Grant lay face down on the ice, immobile, for 10 minutes as trainers and medical staff worked on him. He was carefully rolled onto a stretcher, his head and neck immobilized, and wheeled off the ice. There was no sign of movement from any part of Grant’s body or extremities. The Penguins stated that Grant was being held at the hospital for observation and will provide a statement Sunday to update the blueliner’s status.

Beyond that scary accident, the game started poorly for the Penguins. It started when Simon Despres earned a slashing minor just eight seconds into the game, which they successfully killed. Then the Senators opened the scoring midway through the opening period when Bobby Butler scored his first of two goals during the game.

In fact, it was all Ottawa for the first half of the period. They dominated puck possession, played a sound positional game, and had the Penguins looking lost and disjointed. Eventually the Penguins eventually woke up and were rewarded for their efforts with a late goal by Sill.

And from that point on, it was all Pittsburgh. Although the disparity in shots on goal wasn’t great between the two teams, the calibre of play on ice was. Pittsburgh dominated in all facets of the game and sealed the victory at the 9:30 mark of the third courtesy of Butler’s second goal. After Ottawa’s late marker, Jeffrey capped his night with an empty netter to finish the game.

With Maple Leafs playing the Blackhawks, the second game featured a much livelier atmosphere — not surprising considering London’s under two hours away from Toronto and hometown hero Nazem Kadri is a part of the Leafs’ rookie roster. The lower bowl filled in nicely and the London fans gave a warm welcome to the boys in blue (and white) as they arrived on the ice for their pre-game warm up.

And the hometown fans had plenty to cheer for early and often. While Kadri may have been the apple, it was another local — Greg McKegg — and Sondre Olden and Kenny Ryan, who really caught the spectators’ eyes. The trio formed the squad’s top line and accounted for six points — one goal and one assist each.

The first period was a free-for-all, as both goaltenders could have put in for danger pay — or at least accused their defensive corps of abandonment, as both teams racked up scoring chance after scoring chance en route to a 4-2 first period in favour of the Leafs.

Chicago picked up the pace in the second period, but they continued to fall victim to poor decision-making resulting in penalties. And the Leafs capitalized on Chicago’s mistakes. The first two goals of the game came on the power play and any Blackhawk momentum found itself quelled by a steady march to the penalty box. The club’s traded goals and the period ended following a scrum that saw the Blackhawks’ former first-round selection, Kyle Beach, levied with a 10-minute misconduct for some less-than-courteous language directed towards an on-ice official.

After two high-intensity periods — along with the fact that this was the first real game action the teams had seen — it was only natural that the third suffered in comparison. Both clubs played more sloppy and didn’t show the same drive that the first two displayed. In the end, the Leafs added an insurance goal by Simon Gysbars with a second under two minutes remaining in the period, which brought the final tally to 6-3.

The tournament continues Sunday with a pair of matches: the afternoon contest between the Senators and the Blackhawks, followed by a nightcap pitting the Leafs against the Penguins. The tournament wraps up Tuesday when Chicago plays Pittsburgh in the afternoon and Toronto completes the schedule in the evening against Ottawa.

Article was written by Jason Menard.