It was truly hockey’s future this past week in Kitchener as prospects from
the Leafs, Hurricanes, Rangers and Sabres met in a round-robin tournament.
Before the festivities began for this reporter, a blast from the Leafs’
past, Hall-of-Famer, George (The Chief) Armstrong, greeted me as I arrived.
I then knew this was to be a special weekend spent with the Maple Leafs’
past as well as their future.
The Maple Leafs squared off with the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night
(a game in which I did not attend) and rallied to defeat Carolina, 5-3.
Jonathon Gagnon had two goals, Nikolai Antropov had a goal, Frantisek
Mrazek had a goal and an assist and Adam Mair added an empty-net goal to
close out the goal- scoring. Konstantin Kalmikov, Syl Apps, and Allan
Rourke had the other assists for the Leafs. Sebastian Centomo, a goaltender
who performed for Rouyn-Noranda last season was solid between the pipes for
the Leafs. Centomo accepted a tryout bid from the Leafs for this
Reportedly, the game swung in the Leafs’ favor in the 3rd period when their
#1 line of Antropov, Mair and Mrazek flexed their offensive muscles.
“The purpose of this tournament is to see the prospects perform against
their peers. For those 10 or so players who will go on to the team’s main
camp this next week in Barrie, it will help to take some of the edge off.
They will have an opportunity to relax a little. They will have the
opportunity to show their skills without being quite so intimidated as they
play against the veterans in camp”, states Al McAdam, the coach of the
Leafs’ prospects team, as he downplayed the wins and losses in such a
Game 2 of the tournament for the Maple Leafs on Friday night (a game in
which I was able to attend) pitted them against the New York Rangers’
prospects. The Leafs picked up where they left off on Wednesday as they
started an offensive display early and often.
Just 2:15 into the game, right-winger, Jason Sessa, who played his first
professional season in St. John’s last year, fired a quick wrist-shot past
Rangers’ goaltender Jason Labarbera to put the Leafs up, 1-0. The goal was
his first of the tournament and was assisted by linemate, David Comeau, who
had accepted a tryout bid with the Leafs for this tournament.
Later in the first period, Nikolai Antropov gave Leafs’ fans a taste of his
future wears, as he set up in front of the Rangers’ net just as a Rangers’
penalty was expiring. He refused to be knocked out of the slot and he
perfectly deflected a Peter Reynolds’ drive from the point past Labarbera
for a 2-0, Leafs lead. Reynolds’ defensive partner for most of the
tournament, Vaclav Zavoral, also had an assist on the play.
As time was running out in that first period, it was Jason Sessa again.
With the Leafs’ shorthanded, Peter Reynolds cleared the puck down ice.
Sessa outhustled the Rangers’ defenseman deep in the zone and when
Labarbera partially fanned on a clearing attempt, Jason stole the puck. He
came out from behind the net and backhanded a beauty past the sprawling
Rangers’ netminder for a hardworking, hustling, shorthanded goal and a 3-0,
Leafs lead. It was an impressive effort by Sessa on the penalty-killing
unit. Jason’s second goal of the period ended the scoring for the first
frame at 3-0, Leafs. The Leafs controlled play entirely in the first
stanza and outshot the Rangers, 14-8.
As the 2nd period opened, it was once again the Leafs controlling the play.
Syl Apps went to the net hard as his linemates, wingers Mark Murphy and
Vladimir Antipov, put a lot of pressure on the Rangers’ defense in tight.
Apps wristed home a rebound to make the score, 4-0 Leafs at 1:36 of the 2nd
period. His goal was assisted by Murphy and Antipov.
Although not physically imposing, the line of Apps, Murphy and Antipov put
consistent pressure on the Rangers throughout this game. Antipov proved
dangerous in the open-ice and Apps and Murphy displayed good forechecking
to get this line consistent scoring chances. Apps in particular, worked
fearlessly along the boards.
As the 2nd period was winding down, the Leafs moved the puck up the ice in
the midst of a line-change. Frantisek Mrazek, the huge Czech. winger,
fired the puck from a bad angle near the right-hand boards and the
end-line. Vladimir Antipov, despite his lack of great size, went
aggressively to the net and deflected the puck past the Rangers’ goalie and
a 5-0, Leafs lead. Syl Apps was given credit for an assist on the play
along with Mrazek.
With the Leafs holding a 30-23 advantage in shots, the 2nd period ended
with the Leafs in total command at 5-0. An emerging story throughout the
first two periods came from the Leafs’ mystery-man, goaltender, Vladimir
Kulikov. All reports of his great reflexes and sound techniques bore true
in the first two periods as he was solid and sometimes spectacular in net.
The 3rd period saw the Rangers come out with some life, only to be turned
away time and again by Kulikov. The Leafs certainly didn’t pull in the
reins as they stormed the New York zone as well. One of the highlights of
the period was an old-fashioned, open-ice, hip-check administered by Leafs’
defenseman, Chris Bogas, which sent a Rangers’ forward flying.
Kulikov’s shutout bid ended at 16:51 of the 3rd period, as New York’s
Richard Scott, who had earlier been pummelled by Toronto’s Jacques
Lariviere, deflected a shot past him for a powerplay marker to make the
score, 5-1, Leafs. Jonathon Gagnon finished out the scoring at 19:27 from
Morgan Warren and Hugo Marchand to bring the score to a final at 6-1,
The Leafs had near total command of this game as they outshot the Rangers,
43-34. When the Rangers mounted a consistent offensive threat, they were
turned away by the excellent goaltending of Vladimir Kulikov.
The third game of the tournament for the Leafs was played on Saturday night
as the Toronto team faced their new nemesis, even at the prospects level,
the Buffalo Sabres. Whether fatigue was beginning to set in for the Leafs
after 3 games in 4 nights, or Buffalo was inspired after soundly losing the
first two games of the tournament by a combined score of 16-8, the Leafs
were not a sharp bunch on this night.
Buffalo moved the puck much more effectively, their defensive positioning
was more sound and they seemed to have a bit more jump to their game.
Right from the start, the Sabres took control of the tempo as they outshot
the Leafs, 18-5 in the first period. If not for the sharp work of Leafs’
goaltender, Vladimir Kulikov (who played the first 30 minutes of this
contest), the Leafs would have been in a deep hole. Emulating another
current Leafs’ goaltender, the young netminder came up with key stop after
key stop and held the Sabres within shouting distance.
The only tally of the first period came on the powerplay for the Sabres, as
impressive defenseman, Dimitri Kalinin snuck past Morgan Warren and buried
a shot from the high slot at 16:58. The Leafs were back on their heels,
but trailed only 1-0 through the first period.
Toronto tightened their defensive zone coverage in the 2nd period and
managed to mount a bit of a counter-attack themselves. It seemed that
every promising offensive chance for the Leafs in the 2nd period just
misfired as they were sometimes guilty of looking for too perfect a play
and found themselves overpassing instead of just getting the puck on net.
Sabres’ defenseman, Matthew Kinch gave them a 2-0 lead as he scored from
the left point after Vladimir Antipov failed to clear the puck out of his
own zone. Kulikov had little chance to stop that blast. Buffalo outshot
the Leafs, 13-10 in the second period and entered the 3rd period with that
2 goal lead.
The 3rd period opened with the Leafs trying to swing the momentum on their
side, but most efforts came up short. Early on, Frantisek Mrazek had a
good chance as he got open near the left circle for a blistering
wrist-shot, but was turned away.
A few moments later, Vladimir Antipov went streaking in on a breakaway, but
was sent sprawling just before letting loose with his shot by Sabres
goalie, Mika Noronen. Noronen aggressively come out of his net and
Antipov’s attempt went just wide.
Despite being outplayed, the Leafs drew withing one goal at the 8:19 mark
of the third period. Jonathon Gagnon won a faceoff cleanly in the Buffalo
zone at the right circle. He got the puck back to his left to Morgan
Warren. Warren wasted no time and let go of a lightning-quick wrist shot
which beat the Buffalo netminder before he had a chance to move. The tally
tightened Buffalo’s lead to 2-1, with plenty of time left.
The pendulum which is momentum didn’t swing for long in the Leafs’ favor.
On that same shift, Matthew Kinch beat Morgan Warren’s defensive coverage
in the Leafs’ zone and blasted one past Sebastian Centomo to give the
Sabres a two-goal lead once again. The shot from the high slot was Kinch’s
2nd of the game.
Kinch’s goal seemed to take the wind out of the Leafs’ sails as they failed
to get any further great scoring chances. Buffalo prevailed, 3-1 in front
of over 2,000 fans in the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
There were over 9,000 fans who attended the Leafs’ games and the
players, even though they are just prospects at this time, had to be
inspired by the numerous, Go-Leafs-Go chants which filled the arena on a
number of occasions.
“I was excited, maybe unexpectedly so, by the play of our goaltenders,
Kulikov and Centomo”, stated Al McAdam. “You can also see why the
organization is so high on Antropov as well”, he added. “He will be a load
to handle. Everyone played as we had hoped and expected.”
The following is a capsule summary of the Leafs’ players performance, based
on two games and one practice of observation:
Grouped together in their most common line combinations
Nikolai Antropov: If Adam Mair is the forward’ prospect most ready for the
NHL, this big-man is not far behind. He is extremely tall and lean, with
more the look of a basketball player than a hockey player. Nevertheless,
he is very strong on his skates in traffic and along the boards. He fell a
time or two on his own, but was never knocked off balance by an opponent.
In open-ice, he chews up ground with his long, Mats Sundin-like stride.
His skating problems (?) are more related to a lack of quick acceleration
and tight, quick changes of direction, which are probably pretty typical of
6-5, 19-year old kids. He knows his weaknesses and is working like crazy
to improve them. His seriousness and work ethic will get him there. His
reach, strength and balance will make him a great and creative forechecker.
His passing is exceptional. His shot needs work, particularly on the
quickness of his release. He will be a bear in front of the net, but will
not be a breakaway threat or a Brett Hull sniper. Tournament stats: 3
games, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 pts.
Adam Mair: Has leadership, work ethic, hustle, etc. written all over him.
Was the Leafs’ captain for this tournament and led the Leafs through every
drill. Hits hard, but not recklessly as there is method to his madness
along the boards as well. That is good, because at 6-1, 195, he is not
huge. He is an excellent skater and is very defensively aware. He wanted
to be on the ice, always. He doesn’t seem to have a wide array of shots or
moves, so most of his scoring early on, will come from him going to the
net. This will improve with time as he will see to it. If he makes the
Leafs’ roster this season, expect a checking-line assignment. Tournament
stats: 3 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 pts.
Frantisek Mrazek: No question, he has all the tools. He can skate, handle
the puck and has a trigger-like release on his wrist shot. His shot seems
accurate and immensely powerful. He is still getting accustomed to the
more physical, North American game (by his own admission) and he sometimes
seems to overhandle the puck instead of just getting it on net. He is a
confident player who seems to be willing to do what it takes to make it to
the NHL, and soon. Tournament stats: 3 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 pts.
Syl Apps: Hustles every minute of every shift. Did a nice job taking
draws. Backchecked and forechecked with equal tenacity. Fearless in going
to the net and along the boards, but not a huge hitter. Most of his
offense was created by going to the net for rebounds and deflections.
Tournament stats: 3 games, 1 goal, 2 assists.
Mark Murphy: Smallish winger, who meshed well with Apps and Antipov. A
quick skater, he was very aggressive along the boards in the offensive end.
Good puckhandler, but sometimes seemed to overhandle it a bit. Nice
release on his shot. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 pt.
Vladimir Antipov: Smallish winger who loves to handle the puck in
open-ice. Found the openings down the middle, but lacked the strength to
squeeze by the defense along the boards, even with momentum. Despite his
lack of great size, he went to the net well. Fairly quick release on his
shot, which has some decent zip to it. Tournament stats: 3 games, 1 goal,
1 assist, 2 pts.
Jonathon Gagnon: Exhibited his scoring ability as he led the Leafs in
goals scored and pts. Spent a lot of time on the penalty-killing unit.
Handles the puck well and always with his head up. Is a little shy along
the boards and wasn’t always effective in the defensive zone. Tournament
stats: 3 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 4 pts.
Mirko Murovic: Worked very hard along the boards, mostly with stickwork.
Took the body well also. Didn’t get too many scoring chances himself, but
was an effective forechecker. Average skater and puckhandler. Tournament
stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 pts.
Morgan Warren: Quick trigger on his shot, which is also strong and
accurate. Not an overwhelming skater or physical player, but seems to hold
his own. Struggled a bit with defensive zone coverage. He saw some
penalty-killing action teamed with Gagnon. Tournament stats: 3 games, 1
goal, 1 assist, 2 pts.
David Comeau: Smallish center, who was offered a tryout by the Leafs for
this tourney. Reminded a little of a Steve Sullivan, but with less
dynamics to his play. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 pt.
Jacques Lariviere: Enforcer-type player, who was offered a tryout by the
Leafs for this tourney. Won nearly every fight he was involved in, but has
limited hand and skating skills. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 0
assists, 0 pts., 22 PIM
Konstantin Kalmikov: Has the excellent size and strength for a “classic”
winger. His skills are probably even greater. He can fly, he can handle
the puck at high-tempo and he has a nice array of shots, which he can get
off quickly and without much room. He will be the typical late-bloomer,
however, because of his late-start in hockey and his lack of development in
the Ukraine. His “serious” hockey started when he got to Sudbury just 3
years ago. He is still getting accustomed to the physical play and the
higher intensity level of North American hockey. As my friend, Billy Blake
states, he has the tools, will he acquire the toolbox? Patience is needed
as he is a work in progress. Tournament stats: 2 games, 0 goals, 1
assist, 1 pt.
Jason Sessa: This young man has the potential of a sniper. His wrist-shot
has the velocity of a laser and his release is quick and timely. He is
working hard to round out his game and add more of a physical element. He
just might make a big splash in the AHL as a scorer if he gets the ice-time
this season and then, who knows. Has worked hard with the coaching staff
to improve his overall game. Suffered a thigh contusion in the game
against New York which caused him to miss the Buffalo game. Tournament
stats: 1 game, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 pts.
Luca Cereda did not play in the tournament due to a back injury.
Grouped together in their most common pair combinations
Peter Reynolds: Solid job in his own end, particularly along the boards.
Did a decent job of moving the puck, usually with a breakout pass rather
than carrying it. Exhibited a nice, low, accurate shot from the point.
Saw a good deal of powerplay time. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 1
assist, 1 pt.
Vaclav Zavoral: Exhibited the potential to be a good 2-way defenseman.
Can skate well and likes to jump into the rush. Needs to improve his
upper-body strength to better absorb the pounding along the boards. Can
handle the puck, but needs some work to improve his consistency. Loves to
play the game and seems willing to put in the time and effort to improve
himself. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 pt.
Chris Bogas: Without question, the most polished defenseman in the Leafs’
prospects camp. He has excellent two-way potential. He has speed,
excellent change of direction and can skate backwards very well. He jumped
into the play when the situation dictated it and was also solid in his own
end. He broke up a number of potential odd-man rushes and cleared the puck
well, usually with a breakout pass. Although not overly physical, he is
solid at the take-outs along the boards and won’t give up on the puck. It
would not be surprising to see him put on a good show in the Leafs’ main
camp in Barrie. Tournament stats: 2 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 pts.
Hugo Marchand: Was the most physical of the Leafs’ defensemen, he was
solid in his own end and along the boards. Was a decent force at clearing
the front of the net. Has a powerful, heavy point-shot, but rarely used it
in game situations. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 pt.
Jonathon Zion: Is the best puck-handler among the Leafs’ defensive
prospects. Used his own net nicely to turn the puck up the ice, often down
the middle. Good, but not overly powerful shot from the point. Did a good
job along the boards, although he doesn’t have the protypical size to be a
wizard along the wall. Tournament stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0
Allan Rourke: Has a nice, low shot from the point. Handled the puck
fairly well, but was not overly impressive in any area. Worked hard in his
own zone, but doesn’t have great strength or size. Tournament stats: 3
games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 pt.
Dwight Wolfe and Dimitri Yakushin did not play in the tournament.
Vladimir Kulikov: Smallish goaltender, who was everything advertised. He
is quick, athletic and technically sound. He allowed very few rebounds and
handled the puck well when he needed to. He singlehandedly kept the Leafs
in the Buffalo game. Definitely has some real potential.
Sebastian Centomo: Also looked pretty sharp between the pipes. Has good
size and athleticism. Was offered a tryout by the Leafs and it is expected
they will try to keep him within their system.
The Leafs’ prospects more than held their own against “their peers”.
Although there was not a clearcut, superstar prospect in camp, there is
some real quality and depth developing deep within the Leafs’ coffers..
Despite the changes in the Leafs’ management team, there still seems to be
a committment to scouting, developing and remaining committed to the youth
within the system.
“We are attempting to get these guys ready to play, to move on to the next
level and make that change as smooth and easy as possible. Whether their
background is university, the CHL or European leagues, we are committed to
helping them make that next step”, said McAdam. This week-long prospects
camp and tournament certainly will help to serve that purpose as the Leafs
climb the ladder, from within.