Prospects of the Phoenix Coyotes recently participated in the 2nd Annual Rookie Tournament during September 9-13, at Disney ICE in Anaheim, California. The Coyotes played in the round robin pool against rival prospects from other Pacific Division teams that included the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks, as well as the host team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
In their return to Southern California, the players were looking to defend their tournament title. Holdovers from the 2003 Phoenix tournament team included Tyler Redenbach, Ryan Gibbons, Jakub Koreis, Lance Monych and last year’s tournament MVP and point leader, Randall Gelech. Taking home the title for the second consecutive year was a formidable challenge for the Coyotes from the get-go. They saw nearly 75
percent of their roster change over. Prospects such as Jeff Taffe (graduated), Fredrik Sjostrom, Frantisek Lukes, Beat-Schiess Forster, Matt Spiller and David LeNeveu have all progressed in their own development and did not return this time around. As well, last year’s tournament coach, Marty McSorely did not return as this
year’s bench boss for Phoenix, even though he was in attendance to take in some games.
The 2004 roster included the likes of Keith Ballard, Kiel McLeod, Joe Callahan, Mike Stutzel and Dustin Wood. The Coyotes even had prospects representing from their 2004 draft class, such as Logan Stephenson, Kevin Cormier and Roman Tomanek.
To round out the roster, Phoenix invited the following free agent players to tryout with the team during the tournament. This list included Olivier Latendresse (QMJHL – Val d’Or), Landon Bathe (AHL – Milwaukee/ECHL – Toledo), Ryan Bowness (OHL – Oshawa), Derek Merlini (OHL – Erie), Ryan Jenner (QMJHL – Victoriaville), Matt Nicholson (NCAA – Colgate), Brodie Beard (OHL- Ottawa), Frank Doyle (NCAA – Maine) and Paulo Colaiacovo (OHL – Barrie).
With all the new faces around the locker room, the transformation couldn’t have been complete without the guidance of Pat Conacher who was freshly promoted Utah Grizzles Head Coaching position. Conacher also enlisted the services of his friend and fellow coaching partner, Utah Grizzles Assistant Coach Gord Dineen.
Phoenix stumbles out of the gate
The Phoenix Coyotes opened tournament play against a fast, yet strong San Jose Sharks squad. For many Phoenix prospects, this was the first time they skated with each other, let alone
using NHL rules. They came out strong and did a decent job of creating scoring chances in the first period.
Nevertheless it was the Sharks who ended up taking over the momentum of the game early on. They put pressure on the Coyotes in the neutral zone and often capitalized on their inability to move the puck up ice. Their resiliency paid off when a Tim Conboy goal put San Jose up 1-0, towards the end of the first period.
“They were pretty good down low. We have to be little bit better on our positional play,” said Coyotes forward
Tyler Redenbach. “Its tough obviously, everyone is used to different systems. Hopefully we will pick up this system, know where everyone is supposed to be and then it will be a lot better all over the ice.”
Inconsistency would prove to be Phoenix’s Achilles heel all night long. The Sharks came out in the second period and got into a groove. They continued to display their dominance, while working an aggressive and effective forecheck. Puck possession was the key to their success and San Jose made it hard for the Coyotes to get out of their own zone or even ice the puck at times. Also unable to rotate fresh players onto the ice, Phoenix frequently found themselves defending their own zone with fatigued lines. Unfortunately, San Jose chipped away at the Coyotes defense. They added two more goals towards the end of the second period by way of forward Riley Armstrong, to take a 3-0 lead.
“I thought we played all right. We had a good first period,” said defenseman and Coyotes team captain, Dustin Wood. “The second period rolled around and they just outworked us.”
Determined to get something going, the Coyotes got on the board with a Randall Gelech goal early in the third period to cut the lead to 3-1. Minutes later, San Jose answered back with a goal from Colin Shields to make it 4-1.
As the remaining minutes ticked off the clock, there was little the Coyotes could do to battle back. The Sharks continued to apply pressure and disrupt Phoenix’s flow all night long. San Jose clearly had the on ice advantage, which left the Coyotes tired and frustrated about their effort.
“We got to have good pregame tomorrow and get back to the drawing board,” added an optimistic
Logan Stephenson. “We have to come out hard against our next opponent tomorrow.”
Kings bury the desert dogs
The Coyotes came out looking to rebound from their previous loss the night before. They jumped out to an early lead when Landon Bathe connected on a goal from Olivier Latendresse and Randall Gelech, which put Phoenix up 1-0. Shortly after, the Kings Petr Kanko answered back with a goal of his own, to tie it up at 1-1.
Phoenix cashed in on another solid effort from Olivier Latendresse. After a Kings turnover on the breakout, Latendresse picked up the puck and dropped in an unassisted goal to make it 2-1 at the halfway point of the first period. “It was a lucky goal. I just threw the puck in front of the net,” said Latendresse.
Towards the end of the period, Los Angeles got something going in the Phoenix zone. They began to show their persistence down low and Kings winger Mike Lukajic put the puck past Coyotes netminder Paulo Colaiacovo. The Los Angeles goal knotted it up at two apiece.
The Kings continued to put pressure on Phoenix and forced them to make a lot of errors as they tried to transition their play. Los Angeles forward Noah Clarke forced Derek Merlini to turnover the puck deep in the Coyotes zone, at the start of their own breakout. Clarke scooped up the puck, then raced towards the net to beat Colaiacovo. The goal gave the Kings a 3-2 lead, heading into the first intermission.
As the second period started, the Kings picked up where they left off. Los Angeles jumped out and assumed full control over the contest. Kings forward Petr Kanko got on the boards for the second time of the night with help from Lukas Dora and Chris Barr. The Kings went up 4-2 and never looked back.
Los Angeles answered two more times towards the halfway point of the second period on goals from Greg Hogeboom and David Steckel. This gave the the Kings a commanding 6-2 lead.
Determined to to get his Phoenix teammates going, amateur tryout Landon Bathe dropped the gloves with Kings enforcer Eric Neilson towards the end of the second period. The two would exchange punches before Neilson fell to the ice in defeat. However, there was little the Coyotes could do to stop the game from getting out of hand.
Minutes later, Coyotes defenseman Brodie Beard was called for slashing, putting the Kings up on the man advantage. Los Angeles wouldn’t waste any time on the
power play as forward Mike Lukajic chimed in again, with a power play goal,
his second of the night. This increased the Kings lead to 7-2.
The Kings would add four more goals during the third period, two of which came by Kings forward Petr Kanko to give him a total of four for the
night, and the contest ended with a final score of 11-2.
Overall, the Coyotes spent the last two nights struggling to find their identity as a unit. “Everyone is still getting used to their lines and defensive partners,” said an upbeat Coyotes defenseman, Joe Callahan. “It is tough, because we have a bunch of guys coming in from different systems. We got a lot of guys coming from juniors, college and a couple from Springfield, so we have a pretty much mixed group. I think it will come together. We got a pretty good group of guys with a lot of talent.”
Coyotes bounce back and outwork Anaheim
After a full morning of practice and the rest of the day to soak in the town that Walt Disney put on the map, the Coyotes came into their next game ready and well rested. Phoenix returned to the ice the following day and thanked the Mighty Ducks for their hospitality, by putting on a dominant performance all game long.
Phoenix jumped out earlier and gained control of the game. They worked hard and frustrated an Anaheim team that was by far one of the most cohesive units in the tournament. The Mighty Ducks found themselves in a hole during the first period and had trouble moving the puck into the Phoenix zone.
“I don’t think we had a great first ten minutes, said Anaheim Head Coach Brad Shaw. “Phoenix really fed off that and we never got our game going.”
The Coyotes settled down and began to trust their instincts. Even though they were unable to capitalize on a couple of man advantage situations, the power play unit displayed just how much progress the team had made in such a short matter of time.
Things started to click and the confidence started to build when Tyler Redenbach got things going for fellow linemate, Olivier Latendresse. A Mighty Ducks defender began to move the puck out of his own zone to setup Anaheim’s breakout. As he skated up the far side boards, Redenbach met him with a crushing check, that jarred the puck free. Latendresse came in, grabbed the puck and moved in for the kill. He would put a great move on Mighty Ducks goaltender Mathieu Poitras to score and put the Coyotes up 1-0.
“We came out flat. Phoenix came out hard after an embarrassing loss to the Kings,” said Anaheim center, Ryan Getzlaf. “We just didn’t match their intensity.”
Phoenix would go into the second period defending a narrow lead At one point in the period, Anaheim went on a two-man advantage, though Coyotes stuck together and did a good job of holding their ground. They didn’t give the Mighty Ducks much of a chance to create any offense on the power play at all.
After such a good performance from Coyotes netminder Frank Doyle, Anaheim’s Joel Stepp snuck in in a goal off a rebound to tie up the contest at 1-1, late in the second.
“Our defense and forwards did a great job of taking away the center of the ice and let me see the shots,” added Doyle. “It’s tough when you have been thrown thrown together with a bunch of guys you aren’t used to playing with, but we seem to be coming together.”
As Doyle continued to help his own cause by keeping the Mighty Ducks in check. On the other hand, his teammates went out and gave him the lead on a power play goal by Olivier Latendresse, his second of the
night. The Coyotes ended the second period with a 2-1 lead, which left a very physical Anaheim team speechless.
Building on the momentum, the Coyotes came into the third period with a bunch of confidence. They continued to pressure the Mighty Ducks early and attack their breakout. Anaheim continued to play frustrated, as it showed when the Mighty Ducks started to rack up the penalty minutes.
Desperately trying to get back in the game, Anaheim tried to create some offense even though they were a man down and on the penalty kill. Roman Tomanek intercepted a pass at center ice, beat two defenders (with some dazzling stickhandling moves) and locked onto the Mighty Ducks net. He ripped off a shot that Anaheim goalie Mathieu Poitras initially stopped. Regardless of his effort, Poitras left a huge rebound that landed back on Tomanek’s stick. He slammed the puck home to put Phoenix up 3-1.
Anaheim would crawl back late during the third period, while on the power play. Defenseman Andrew Canzanello setup Corey Perry for Anaheim’s second goal, to inch the Mighty Ducks closer at 3-2.
Phoenix would not back down. Anaheim pulled their goaltender to give them a man advantage towards the end of regulation. However, Kiel McLeod would take a pass from Randall Gelech and score an empty netter to seal the first Phoenix victory with a final score of 4-2.
“With all the prospects here, you want to give everyone a chance to show what they have,”
said Conacher. “The first two games we wanted to see what everyone had and see what they where about. We moved people around. They even got a chance to play the on the power play and the penalty kill. We fine tuned the roster and put the guys in those positions tonight and they responded.”
Phoenix takes 3rd in the Rookie Tournament
The Coyotes squad bounced back however. They entered their final contest in a rematch bout against the San Jose Sharks.
The game started off fast and hard and when things calmed down, Tyler Redenbach fed
Kiel McLeod, who blasted a wrister past San Jose goalie Jason Churchill. The Coyotes took a 1-0 lead late in the first period.
“Playing with Gelech and Redenbach was nice. They carried me most of the other nights,” a jovial
McLeod expressed. “They are both really good players. They made some great passes to me on the side and I was able to create some lucky shots.”
In many ways, this game mimicked the modern NHL style of play. Needless to say, there wasn’t much offense. However, the Coyotes started working hard on the forecheck early in the second period. Lance Monych took a pass from Kevin Cormier and scored on a wrap around that squeezed its way through
Churchill’s five hole.
The Sharks fought back and finally added a marker of their own, when Steve Bernier deflected a shot from Lukas Kasper.
Even though the Sharks would out shoot the Coyotes 32-13 in the first two periods, it was Phoenix who headed into the the third period with a 2-1 lead, behind the solid play of goaltender, Paulo Colaiacovo.
“Colaiacovo made the difference tonight,” stated Conacher. “He came out after getting shell shocked the other night and he came back with the big effort. We didn’t play that well in the first two periods and San Jose really took the play to us, but he was the difference.”
Phoenix headed into the final frame of the match, staring down a Sharks team that would not go quietly into the night. Sticking together and playing as a team, they proved to be the better team this time around.
Kiel McLeod added an insurance goal early in the third to put the Coyotes up 3-1.
“Kiel is a big player that has to play a simple game, go the net, shoot the puck and continue doing that,” Conacher said about
McLeod’s performance. “With these type of players, you find that goals come in bunches. You could a couple of games driving to the net, stopping in front, taking a beating without getting rewarded. Then, all of a sudden for a couple of games you’re getting rewarded for that kind of work. That is what he did, the first couple of games he was doing the same thing and he wasn’t being rewarded but, he was rewarded tonight.”
The Sharks kept pounding away and added a late period power play goal by forward Shane Joseph. The goal would pull San Jose closer at 3-2, but the supple Phoenix squad held off the late rush.
The Coyotes wrapped up their 2004 tournament rebounding and playing together as a team. They left Anaheim taking third place and accomplishing a lot more than anyone expected. They made a few simple adjustments, responded to the coaching staff and
turned things around. For a team that lacked any true veteran leadership and had some many new components involved, the team
accomplished a lot.
Unfortunately for many players, this is maybe as far as they go. For the some, it is just the beginning.
“In these type of tournaments, you want to see what the guys are bringing to the table. They all have some sort of identity coming out of junior or college and you want to see if they played up to that level here,” added Coach Conacher. “We will all sit down as a management group and identify who can take it to the next level. Those should be the guys that go to Utah and eventually make it to Phoenix.”
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.