Saturday was an exciting day in Traverse City, Michigan, as the eight teams of prospects began to sort themselves out according to talent, and the race toward the tournament championship narrowed. In the four games that were played today, the Atlanta Thrashers defeated the New York Rangers by a score of 5-4; Dallas beat Minnesota 3-0; Columbus defeated St. Louis 6-2; and Detroit beat Tampa Bay 2-1. Because the tournament is set up so that each team plays three preliminary games before the final championship game, only against teams within its own “division”, these scores mean that Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, i.e., teams that are 0-2, have been eliminated from any chance of winning the tournament title. Teams that have won both of their preliminary games thus far (Columbus, Dallas, and Atlanta) have the best chance of playing for the tournament championship on Tuesday.
Additional excitement was generated on Saturday by a power failure during the afternoon games. The lights in the two rinks were out, and the end first periods of both games had to be delayed after about 15 minutes of game time. Once the lights came back on, the first period of each game was completed, and after a two-minute between-period break, the second period begun. Thus Zamboni only cleaned the ice once in the afternoon games.
Dallas vs. Minnesota
Dallas defeated Minnesota by a score of 3-0, but the gap between the two teams was greater than the score indicates, as the Wild played an undisciplined game. Minnesota did hold the Stars in check for the first two periods, until they started a parade to the penalty box in the third period. It is hard to win a game when a team takes 15 penalties and their opponent only takes 10. Minnesota would do well to cut down on some the aggressive play in its game against St. Louis on Monday. That said, Minnesota had quite a few scoring chances, and the shots on goal were not as lopsided as the score (Minnesota 27, Dallas 34). For the second day in a row, Minnesota had trouble finishing.
There were bright spots in the game for the Wild. Benoit Pouliot (1st round, 4th overall, 2005) played well on the penalty kill, and although he had momentary lapses, he has improved his play in that area. He also demonstrated some of his dazzling skill skating with the puck. The Wild goaltender for the game, Kristofer Westblom (3rd round, 64th overall, 2005) played very well. Despite giving up three goals in the final period, Westblom exhibited nice positioning, stayed square to the shooter, and made several excellent sprawling saves.
Dallas has benefited greatly from playing in the division that contains Minnesota and St. Louis, and with their 2-0 record are one of the teams with the best chance to win the tourney. Monday will be the real test for Dallas though, playing against Columbus, one of the strongest prospect teams currently in Traverse City. Dallas prospects who shined include Vojtech Polak (2nd round, 36th overall, 2003), who had his second straight impressive game. An excellent skater, with an almost equally good shot, Polak has turned lots of heads over the past two days. On Saturday, Polak again had eight shots on goal. One of his shots was low and inside the far post for the Stars’ third (and last) goal of this afternoon’s game.
Marty Sertich followed up his two-goal game yesterday with a two-assist day today. Sertich plays a smart game, and the puck seems to come to him wherever he is on the ice. Finally, Janos Vas (2nd round, 32nd overall, 2002), one of the older players in the tournament, had seven shots on goal today. One of them found the back of the net. Vas, Sertich, and Polak played on the Stars’ first line today, and it was a very effective combination. To be successful against Columbus on Monday, the line will have to continue its high level of play, and get lots of support from the second line, as well as the Dallas defense.
New York vs. Atlanta
The Atlanta Thrashers came in playing a high-tempo game against the Rangers, and registered four quick goals in the first period that sent New York looking for cover. The joke in the arena was that some unknown Rangers fan or personnel had pulled the plug on the lights in the rink, because the rink went dark shortly after former Rangers prospect and now Thrasher property Joey Crabb (former Ranger pick who signed with Atlanta last month) put the puck in the net behind New York goaltender Chris Holt. Although Holt had an excellent game on Friday evening, on Saturday he looked very poor in goal. In 14:36 of play, Holt had only three saves on seven shots. Once the lights came back on, camp invitee John Murray was between the pipes for the Rangers. Murray played a total of 45:24 in the game and faced 10 shots; he only allowed one goal.
The return of the lights marked the return of the Rangers’ offense. New York reeled off four unanswered goals.
“We started getting stupid,” Thrasher team coach Jeff Pyle explained later. “I told them ‘be smart.’ But I could see it on their faces that we were in for trouble.”
The interruption of the period lead to a lack of focus. The team had been joking in the locker room when the lights were out, likely the very opposite of what the Rangers were doing. Atlanta backed off, and then when they got into trouble, panicked.
“We were OK at times, hit a few posts,” Pyle said.
But a turnover led to the third goal and pretty soon it was tied. At 10:06 of the third period, Jim Sharrow (4th round, 110th overall, 2003) put the puck past Murray. That proved to be the winning goal, and Atlanta is now a top contender for the tournament title.
“In the end, we got the win,” Pyle said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to or could have, but that’s the bottom line.”
One key improvement for the Thrashers was on the penalty kill. They killed 11 Ranger penalties, despite not having gone over this special teams function in practice.
Crabb had a very good game offensively for the Thrashers, but the best player on the ice for this game may have been winger Jordan LaVallee (4th round, 116th overall, 2005), who had a goal and an assist. Thrasher goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (2nd round, 41st overall, 2005) had an up and down game. He faced 28 shots and stopped 24.
Pyle was pleased with his performance. “Pavelec played great, really well,” he said. “He made the saves we needed him to make.”
Dan Turple will start in net for the Thrashers on Monday, with Pavelec returning on Tuesday.
The Rangers brought a different team to the ice this day. Only 10 players who saw ice time on Friday played Saturday, and all of yesterday’s best players (except for Holt) sat in the stands. The Rangers management brought a large number of players to Traverse City and are intent on seeing them all play in games. Two players who were not suited up Friday had excellent games Saturday. Brodie Dupont (3rd round, 66th overall, 2005) showed some very good on-ice decision-making and positioning for most of the afternoon. He was rewarded for his efforts with a goal and an assist.
Ryan Russell (7th round, 211th overall, 2005), whose name does not appear on the scoresheet, had a notable game. Russell exhibited an outstanding shot, nice skating and some very nifty puckhandling.
It’s notable that Atlanta defenseman Nathan Oystrick (7th round, 198th overall, 2002) is even playing in the tournament, having been diagnosed with mono in early July. Oystrick played in the first game on Friday, but Pyle sat him out for the second game because he didn’t want to run him down. Oystrick told the coach that he doesn’t feel 100 percent, but is getting stronger. Pyle plans to put him back in the lineup on Monday and it’s not anticipated that Oystrick will miss regular season games at this point, unless he suffers a setback.
The Thrashers experienced two injuries during Saturday’s game, a hip pointer for Brett Sterling (5th round, 145th overall, 2003) and a possible concussion for Alex Bourret (1st round, 16th overall, 2005). Sterling left halfway through the first period and Bourret halfway through the second. Pyle said that Sterling had probably been the team’s best player up to that point, so the injury might hurt a bit. They’ll have to rework the lines, though it’s possible Sterling could return Monday. Bourret may be held out the rest of the tournament for precautionary reasons. Pyle said he was really glad the team had off tomorrow, because they really need it. He’ll put them through a light skate on Sunday.
The Rangers’ Bruce Graham (3rd round, 51st overall, 2004), who played a very respectable game on Friday, was also injured during the first period, so both teams played with a short bench for almost the entire game.
Columbus vs. St. Louis
The Blue Jackets continued their tear through the field in this rookie tournament, defeating one of the tourney’s weaker teams, the St. Louis Blues, by the score of 6-2. Columbus reeled off five unanswered goals to begin the game. The Blues scored two goals in the third before the Blue Jackets put in one more toward the end of the game, but this game was all Columbus. Even though the shots on goal were equal, both teams had 27 pucks get through to the netminder, the scoring chances belonged almost completely to Columbus. It’s hard to select just a few players who stood out for the Blue Jackets, because the team was so dominant and the offensive firepower so widespread. However, Dan Knapp (camp invitee) scored his second and third goals of the tournament, and for the second day in a row had the game-winning goal. Another player who had an excellent evening was Robert Nyholm (5th round, 129th overall, 2006), who scored two goals and was +2 on the night.
For St. Louis, it was a bleak evening. One bright spot was the offensive display of David Backes (2nd round, 62nd overall, 2003). Backes scored the Blues first goal, and had the primary assist on the second. Another player who had a good night was David Fredriksson (7th round, 211th overall, 2004). Fredriksson had two assists in this game, and was a force on the ice last night too. He is definitely a player to watch as this tournament continues.
Detroit vs. Tampa Bay
The final game of the day was played between Detroit and Tampa Bay. There was only one goal a period in this game; however, there were lots of scoring chances, with the shot count at Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 19. The game was a very close one, with outstanding goaltending on both sides. For Detroit, former Michigan State star Dominic Vicari (camp invitee) played a top-notch game stopping 18 shots on the night. Vicari was excellent in stopping shots coming off odd-man rushes, staying on his feet, and exhibiting very good lateral movement. For Tampa Bay, Karri Ramo (6th round, 199th overall, 2004) had a very good game. He plays a very controlled game, seems unflappable, and exhibits excellent coverage of the lower portion of the net. Ramo stopped all but two of the Red Wings’ 27 shots.
Two other Tampa Bay players deserve mention for their inspired play. First, camp invitee center David Desharnais. The offensively-minded Desharnais showed very good board work, even better passing skills, and excellent speed in the game. Also a notable was Kelly Czuy, also an invitee. Czuy can really pass the puck well and is a speedster.
The Lightning team is much better than its 0-2 record. Both losses were close games (the one against the Rangers went into 2 OTs), and could have been easily won. Although Tampa Bay did not use its size against Detroit as it did against the Rangers last night, they were still very competitive. The team was unlucky in many ways, including a shot that hit the post that could have dropped into the goal.
Both Logen Pyett (7th round, 212nd overall, 2006) and Evan McGrath (4th round, 128th overall, 2004) played well tonight, although neither appeared on the scoresheet. Pyett showed good moves with the puck and nice shooting abilities. McGrath is a very good defensive forward, who played on the penalty kill and did an excellent job. Also worth mentioning was the play of camp invitee Reid Jorgensen, who played a very good game as a defensive forward. His boardwork and clearing of the puck were very impressive.
There are no games on Sunday, but practices for each team will take place early in the day.
Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.