Eight NHL teams are participating in the five-day 2006 Traverse City Prospects Tournament that began today: Atlanta, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, New York Rangers, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. The structure of the tournament is to have teams practice for 45-minute segments on one of two ice surfaces in the mornings, and then on four of the five tournament days (in the afternoon and the evening), two games are played simultaneously, one on each rink. On Sunday, there are team practices only, with no games scheduled.
The tournament games began this afternoon, with St. Louis playing Dallas, and Minnesota taking the ice against Columbus. The Stars defeated the Blues by a score of 5-2, and Columbus beat the Wild 4-2. However, neither game was as close as the score indicated, in that both Minnesota and St. Louis were dominated by their opponents. The Blue Jackets are the favorite to win this tournament, and it was easy to see why. The team has speed and their effort level is unsurpassed by any of the other teams. Despite the fact that one of their top prospects, Derick Brassard, is not here due to an injury he sustained at the QMJHL Drummondville Voltigeurs training camp, Columbus has the edge in skill. Several other teams may be able to steal the title though, and one of those teams is the Dallas Stars.
Dallas vs. St. Louis
The Stars jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the Blues before St. Louis woke up. The Blues were beaten badly all over the ice in the first half of the game, during which recently signed free agent Marty Sertich scored two goals, and it was not until Nicholas Drazenovic (6th round, 171 overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft) scored at 10:13 of the second period that the Blues picked up their game. Drazenovic’s goal was the result of a beautiful skate down the ice by camp invitee Kevin Croxton, who passed the puck to Drazenovic in the slot. Croxton was the goal scorer on the Blues second goal, and he is certainly a player to watch during the rest of the tournament. St. Louis kept pressuring the Stars, but the Dallas netminder, the 22-year-old Swiss Tobias Stephan, kept the puck out of the net. Not that Stephan was steady throughout the game, he made several poor decisions, including passing the puck across his own net, and then nearly flicking the puck into his own goal as he nonchalantly attempted to play it off the boards.
Despite looking like force to be reckoned with during the Blues practice, 20-year-old Michal Birner was a non-factor in the game. The Blues 2006 fourth round selection, Reto Berra, played the entire game in net and had a shaky one. Poor decision-making and bad positioning marred his play. However, there were some bright spots for the Blues. In addition to Croxton, who was one of the better Blues players on the ice, Gino Guyer (free agent signee), was also impressive as a skater who can position himself well. For Dallas, Sertich was one of the team’s highlights. Additionally, Vojtech Polak (a 2003 draft selection) looked very promising. With eight shots on goal this afternoon, Polak had the most shots by any player on the first day. Also worthy of mention was free agent Chris Connor, who was +2 for Dallas on the afternoon, including the game-winning goal.
Columbus vs. Minnesota
At the same time that Dallas and the Blues were battling it out, Columbus and Minnesota were on the other ice surface. As stated previously, the Blue Jackets dominated, beating the Wild by a score of 4-2. In addition to its offensive power, an unexpected strength of Columbus was its fighting ability. In two third-period battles, the Columbus player not only won the fight, but also nearly pummelled the Wild’s players heads into the ice. It really does look like the Blue Jackets are going to be tough to beat in this tourney.
Player of the game honors would have to be divided between the 2003 draft selection center Philippe Dupuis, and goaltender Dan LaCosta (3rd round, 93 overall, 2004). Dupuis had 6 shots on goal, with one goal and one assist on the afternoon. LaCosta played 31:05 in net for the Blue Jackets and had 14 saves on 14 shots. Also deserving mention is Adam Pineault (2nd round, 46 overall, 2004), who put on a puckhandling display doing a 360 around the net and Kris Russell, who has incredible confidence and finesse on the ice. For Minnesota, the bright spots included the play of AJ Thelen (1st round, 12 overall, 2004), who had a goal on a rocket of a shot from the point in the last few minutes of the game, and that of the big defenseman Clayton Stoner, who had four shots on goal on the afternoon, and generally was solid on defense.
Detroit vs. Atlanta
In the evening matchups, Detroit faced Atlanta and the New York Rangers played the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Red Wings/Thrashers game was standing room only, as many fans made the trek up from Detroit and lots of local Northern Michigan fans filled the seats, aisles, and every available standing area. They were disappointed though, as the Red Wings lost the game by a score of 4-3 on a short-handed goal in the third period. The shortie was scored by recent Colorado College grad Brett Sterling (5th round, 145 overall, 2003), who had 4 shots on the night. The other star Thrasher player tonight was 2005 selection (4th round, 116 overall), winger Jordan LaVallee. The 20-year-old LaVallee scored two even-strength goals on three shots.
For Detroit, camp invitee Ryan Keller, who spent most of last season playing for the USHL Muskegon Fury, scored a goal on one of his five shots in the first period. Keller, who looked very comfortable with the puck on his stick, had seven shots in total in the game. Also notable was the play of seventh round (214th overall) 2006 NHL draft selection Logan Pyett, who had two assists in the game.
New York vs. Tampa Bay
The Rangers/Lightning game took double overtime to decide. At 56 seconds into the second overtime (which was 3 on 3), the Rangers’ top prospect Marc Staal (1st round, 16 overall, 2005) took a pass from Marvin Degon (who is signed to an AHL contract and in camp on a tryout basis). Degon had a very good game, five shots on goal, two assists, but the three best players on the ice for the Rangers were Brandon Dubinsky, who had the game’s first goal, and Staal, who seems to have developed quite a bit over the summer, and goaltender Chris Holt. Dubinsky was a leader on the ice, directing traffic during the game, and directing pre-game drills, and Staal was excellent on takeaways and took a greater part in the offense than in the recent past. Holt was solid in net, making some excellent saves.
Both of the Tampa Bay goals were the result of his skaters failing to clear the zone after very good Holt saves. Three Lightning players deserve mention as standouts. First, goaltender Riku Helenius, Tampa Bay’s first round selection (15 overall) in 2006, who played a fantastic game, facing 35 shots in 65:04 minutes and saving 32 of them. His poise between the pipes was very impressive. Two skaters also played an excellently during the game. The 6’7 defenseman Vladimir Mihalik (1st round, 30 overall, 2005), who not only was intimidating, but also contributed offensively with one assist, and winger Radek Smolenak (3rd round, 73 overall, 2005), who, along with Mihalik, blocked shots and played a very solid two-way game. Tampa Bay was the most effective team in their own zone today, positioning themselves very well to block shots, and having the size to be successful in doing so.
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