by Sean Hatchard
Phoenix Coyotes rookie Michael Schutte exemplified everything that was right for the Coyotes in their final performance at the NHL Rookie Tournament in Hull, Quebec Sunday.
Winless in their first three tries, the Coyotes needed a big effort and Schutte and the rest of the defence delivered.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound rearguard scored a goal and led a defensive squad that simply shut down and outmuscled the Montreal Canadiens in a 6-4 win at the Robert Guertin Arena.
Phoenix and Montreal finished the tournament with identical 1-3 records, but the Coyotes took third in the tournament with the win in the consolation match.
The Coyotes defensive unit, which also featured hard-hitting Matthew Spiller and Louis Robitaille, wore down the smaller Canadiens forwards with strong physical play and gave their goaltending duo of Josh Blackburn and Steve Belanger an easy night in nets.
“The game plan was to finish our hits and take it to them physically,” the 23-year-old Schutte said.
“We wanted to be all over them and outmuscle them and use our speed. We did all that and it worked.”
The Phoenix defensive crew also chipped in offensively as both Schutte and Spiller recorded goals.
Montreal Rockets player Brett Lutes paced the Coyotes with two goals and a pair of assists. Sami Venalainen also scored two goals in the win.
Jonathan Ferland, Patrick Levesque, Andrew Archer and Johan Eneqvist scored for Montreal.
Schutte, who played the last three seasons for the University of Maine Black Bears, was a dominating force on the blueline.
He anchored the Phoenix powerplay and didn’t mind joining the rush, but never found himself out of position. Along with the rest of the defencemen, he didn’t mind taking the body to shut down Montreal.
“I found we were getting better with each game and it was just a matter of time before we got our first win,” said Schutte, who signed a contract with Phoenix over the summer.
“If this was a longer tournament, we definitely would have won some more games.”
The Coyotes dominated almost the entire game and led 6-1 entering the third period. But the Canadiens rallied with the entry of Olivier Michaud, who replaced a very shaky Chris Houle in nets, to begin the third.
Montreal managed to get three third-period goals past Blackburn, but that was all, and the game was never really in doubt for Phoenix.
Blackburn, who took over for an injured Belanger in the first period, recorded the easy win in goal.
“It was a big effort from our defensive corps tonight,” Schutte said.
The game featured plenty of fighting, slashing and dirty cheap shots from both squads.
Montreal had to play the second half of the game with an extremely short bench because of fighting ejections and injuries. Captain Mike Komisarek was ejected after he lost a bout to Saskatoon Blades scrapper Alex Huxley. Adam Smyth, playing defence for the game, was ejected in the first for fighting and Eric Dagenais was injured along the boards early in the first period. That left Montreal with three regular defencemen for the majority of the game, while forward Jean Morin dropped back to help out.
“It was kind of a long game because of all the guys that were kicked out,” said Canadiens sniper Jozef Balej, who also saw loads of ice time when further fights took the forward corps down to three lines.
“It was a pretty good test to see if we were in game shape or not, we got a lot of ice time there at the end.”
Balej, who along with linemates Tomas Plekanec and Eneqvist were the only Montreal bright spot, said he was disappointed with the final outcome.
“I think we handled the physical part of it pretty well, but I don’t think we had any chances in the first period,” he said.
It was a disappointing tournament for the Canadiens, who received suspect goaltending all week long and failed to produce offensively.
“We have to get more shots and go to the net or else this is the kind of result we’ll get,” Balej said.