One might wonder if the ice was that bad, or if there was that little talent. After
a hard fought match between Florida and Montreal, where the brawn outshone the talent,
the Ottawa Senators prospects took on the Tampa Bay Lightning prospects in what seemed
to be a slip and slide matchup due to a sheet of water covering the ice. These were the
final two games of a four-day tournament which featured two games per day, with
each team playing in one of those daily two games.
In the Panthers’ four games, they deteriorated from giving the impression of being
a fairly strong, experienced and mature team to revealing themslves as an
undisciplined, immature and flat out joke of a squad. Their top player, Novoseltsev
was injured for all games aside from Game 2 versus Montreal in which he notched the
only two Panther goals. The pressure was then placed on Florida’s number one draft
pick, Denis Shvidki, to lead the way offensively for the talent-challenged Panthers.
But after a respectable opening game against the Senators, Shvidki trailed off and
disappeared for the rest of the tournament. Receiving some PK time, and tons of
powerplay time, Shvidki remained unsuccessful and mainly a liability defensively.
Perhaps too much was expected from the supposed feisty young player. It may
be that not only his numbers but his stock was blown out of proportion while
he played on one of the better junior squads across the country.
The longer Florida remained without a threat offensively, the shorter their tempers
were. Brad Ference and Eric Godard were given increased ice time to pummel opponents,
but still had no luck on the score sheet. Terry Murray’s game plan was merely to
utilize the Panthers’ size and speed to forecheck and check opponents until they
This style did not have much success against the Canadiens in Game Two, since the Habs
played as a team, and not as 18 individuals. Mike Ribeiro dominated the game, scoring
two goals. He had good chemistry with teammate Arron Asham, who was eventually ejected
after two fights.
The rest of the club had a strong game, even the Canadiens’ first round draft pick in
’98, Eric Chouinard, who was otherwise virtually invisible during the tournament. The
slick skating but often floating talented Chouinard centered the “First Pick Line”
which featured the Canadiens’ top picks in the last three years: Alexander Buturlin,
Chouinard and Jason Ward. The line did not bring the success that was hoped for, since
the styles of each player conflicted. Ward, the burly power forward,
had difficulty with acceleration and could not keep up with The Disappearing Act, who
in turn could not work with Buturlin. Both Buturlin and Chouinard are capable
playmakers, although each seemed more intent on impressing management with their
shooting. Hence the line splintered into three individuals hoping to surprise and
make the 25 man roster.
The “First Pick Line” was quickly broken up in Game Three against the Ottawa Senators.
Buturlin was injured with a knee on knee collision in the faceoff circle in the
offensive zone by Senator Bob Prier. He did not return to action for the remainder
of the tournament. Jason Ward was then moved to the productive line, the second line,
alongside Mike Ribeiro, replacing Arron Asham who had been injured after two tilts
against Florida. But the two did not work well together, nor did the rest of the team.
After two close games – one lost against the talent-less Panthers and one won
in a shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning – the Senators implemented the boring, but
effective trap. The blue-collar Senators virtually perfected the system, surprisingly.
However, at the same time, they improved drastically offensively.
Utilizing strong team speed and hard work, led by Mike Fisher, the Senators
outsmarted their opponents and tired them out in the corners. The lucky bounces then
came to the Senators, as well. Mathieu Garon left his net over halfway through
the first period. He read the bounce along the board wrong and was caught off balance
sliding into his net when the Senators scored their first goal of the game. Heading
into the second period, Montreal sent out draftee Evan Lindsay to replace Garon.
This is, coincidentally, when Ottawa’s scoring began. Scoring six goals in 25 minutes
of play, the Senators easily won the game 7-3, after Jason Ward, Michael Ryder and
Dusty Jamieson managed to scrum up goals for the beaten Canadiens.
This spelled the fate of the Canadiens, who had more talent than both the Senators and
Panthers, but had difficulty putting it all together. The Habs met Florida
for the final game of the tournament, to see which team was the bigger loser. By
contrast the Senators and Lightning battled ’till the whistle blew, then went five more
minutes for OT and an exciting, but non-traditional shootout, like they had the day
before. That is until the unknown ’98 late round draft pick emerged and made fans
wonder who that player was in the yellow skates. It was the crafty, mobile Russian
known as Petr Schastlivy who scored that game winner.
Schastlivy remained effective against Tampa Bay in the finals. Despite lacking some
straight away speed, Schastlivy possesses strong stickhandling, hockey sense and
mobility which more than compensate. Playing on a line with Cris Neil and
Konstantin Gorovikov, Schastlivy provided the bulk of the offense for the line.
Starting the scoring early, the young Russian set up Cris Neil on a goal which, much
like the day before versus Montreal, opened the floodgate of goals. The slight framed
Lightning forwards simply could not break through the Senators’ strong defensive
system. With the ice becoming slush, the Bolts’ speed up front could not be used
effectively as it had been previously in the tournament.
Going into the third, Tampa Bay, facing a shut out and six goals scored on their
goaltenders [Koening and Holsinger] came out flying, despite the ice. When the ice
slowed the forwards down, they dove to get where they wanted to go. Matt Elich, who
had a solid tournament, came out flying as he had the three games before and managed
a quick goal and assist on Gignac’s goal, to make it 6-2. Then the exciting smurf
Ivan Rachunek stickhandled through the entire Senator lineup, to set up Mikko Kuparinen
who took a blast from the point that beat young Simon Lajeunesse. But that was all
the young Lightning squad could muster, and were beat 6-3 in the finals.
In “that other game”, the battle of the losers, Florida managed a goal early to jump
ahead of the Canadiens in the first. Shortly after Ryan Jardine’s goal, Jason Ward
was slashed and held his wrist for a few moments, only to shoot a wrist shot over
Auld’s shoulder off a rebound. Meanwhile Ribeiro caused havoc in front of the
net and Dwyer knocked over stalwart defenseman, Brad Woods. Jason Ward struck again,
as he carried the puck over the blueline, outskating a sprawling Panther defenseman,
then cut up around the hash marks and skated into the crease with gorgeous
stickhandling. He waited with the puck until the inexperienced Auld slid over to the
right side, then easily lasered the puck past Auld. It seemed as if Ribeiro had rubbed
off on Ward, for that play at least.
Continuing to be the center of attention, Jason Ward bumped Delaney along the Florida
bench, only to be greeted with a spearing from the bench. Eric Godard
apparently did not enjoy the fact that he had received zilch amount of ice time thus
far in the final game and wanted to jump off the bench to go toe-to-toe with Ward.
Thankfully for Ward, who had injured his jaw in a fight two games earlier against
Godard, the referee stopped the Panther player from leaping off the bench.
Minutes later, the game turned ugly, with Dan Tessier poking at a loose puck that
slipped away from Alex Auld. Kyle Rossiter and Brad Ference jumped all over the
smurf-sized forward. Gordie Dwyer skated over and took the two defensemen on, though,
and each received two minutes in the box. When the two minutes were up, and the play
stopped, Terry Murray sent out Eric Godard for the first time, and Brad Ference, since
Dwyer’s line hit the ice. Dwyer lined up against Godard on the left side. The Panther
continued shoving and taunting Dwyer, but received no response. The puck was dumped
into the Panther zone where Brad Ference picked it up, but he received a bone crushing
hit from Dwyer. Godard, only inches away as he was tangled up with several Canadiens,
mugged Dwyer from behind and both Godard and Ference pummelled the young goon hopeful.
Jason Ward quickly jumped into the fight, but the referee and linesmen held back
both Panther goons. As the two Panthers were being dragged away, Dwyer skated out
smiling and taunting them to ‘come get some’. Referees continued holding on to both
Panthers, though, and Brad Ference yelled some expletives as he left the ice. This was
an ugly end to an interesting tournament. The Panthers later tied the game up at two,
and Ryan Jardine scored early in overtime on a weak goal in which Evan Lindsay left a
foot between the right post and his shoulder, despite the fact that Jardine was
breaking in on the right side.
The slush slowed the pace of the two final games, but the talent level was at a low.
None of the expected dominating forces were dominating. In fact, it was quite the
opposite. Eric Chouinard, Denis Shvidki, Ivan Novoseltsev and Sheldon Keefe,
Montreal’s, Florida’s and Tampa’s top players respectively did not show up. The players
that came through for each team were the unexpected; Ryan Jardine [4th rounder],
Fedor Fedorov [6th rounder], Mikko Kuparinen [9th rounder] and Petr Schastlivy