The Traverse City Prospects Tournament ended on Tuesday, with the tournament favorite Columbus Blue Jackets winning the championship title. The Blue Jackets defeated the Atlanta Thrashers by a score of 5-1, in a game that demonstrated the dominance of the Blue Jackets prospects in this tournament. All eight teams played for the final tournament positions yesterday, with each game very hard fought. The non-championship games were all won by one goal, with two games going longer than regulation to decide.
In the consolation game, the Dallas Stars defeated the New York Rangers by a score of 6-5. The game for fifth place, between the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings, went to double overtime before the Red Wings won 4-3. The game for seventh place, between Tampa Bay and Minnesota, went to a shootout, and the Lightning finally were able to pull out a win, by the score of 8-7.
Tampa Bay vs. Minnesota
In the game for seventh place, Minnesota and Tampa Bay really battled it out. This was an exciting game, as for the first time in the tournament, the Wild were able to generate some offense. Up until then, Minnesota had managed only five goals in nine periods, while giving up 13 to their opponents. Although the defense and the netminding still left something to be desired at least offensive production improved sufficiently to make the game competitive. Tampa Bay’s troubles in this tournament have not centered on offense, however. It has been the defense and the goaltending that failed to come up big in the critical situations that has caused the team to finish last in the East Division.
Minnesota jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period. Tampa Bay then reeled off six unanswered goals in a little over 20 minutes, and, at four minutes into the third period, it looked like the game was over. However, the Wild showed some determination that was previously not apparent in this tournament. With a little under five minutes left in the game, Minnesota tied the score on a goal by Ryan Hamilton (free agent). It looked like the game was going to overtime with the score tied at six goals apiece, when, in the last minute of the game, first Tampa Bay’s Maxime Boisclair (free agent) scored and then the Wild’s Peter Olvecky (3rd round, 78 overall, 2004) put the puck into the Lightning net with only six seconds left.
The score was tied at 7-7 when overtime started. With no scoring in either of the overtime periods, this became the first tournament game this year to go to the shootout. In the shootout, all of the three Minnesota shots were turned away by Lightning netminder Karri Ramo (6th round, 191 overall, 2004). Tampa Bay’s Radek Smolenak (3rd round, 73 overall, 2005) scored the lone goal beating Kristofer Westblom (3rd round, 65 overall, 2005) to win the game.
Westblom was only in the game because after five Tampa Bay goals went past Miroslav Kopriva (6th round, 187 overall, 2003), he was yanked. Although Kopriva was shaky and deserved to be pulled from the game, Westblom was not that much better. Ramo was nothing to write home about either, as the netminders were pretty ineffective for much of the game. Over the five periods, the Lightning put 42 shots on goal and the Wild 34.
The game was exciting one though from an offensive point of view. Both teams really had their offense going in the game. For Tampa Bay, each of Smolenak and Marek Bartanus (4th round, 92 overall, 2005) had two goals on the night. Both forwards are big and dominating on the ice, and both played really well last night. Also deserving of mention was the play of Blair Jones (4th round, 102 overall, 2005) and David Desharnais (free agent), both centers, who had three points apiece last night.
For Minnesota, with two goals and an assist, Benoit Pouliot (1st round, 4 overall, 2005) was one of the best players on the ice. Almost as important as the points he put on the board was the fact that Pouliot gave a consistent effort throughout the game. As noted above, Hamilton scored a clutch goal late in the game, but he had also scored earlier in the third period. Cal Clutterbuck (3rd round, 72 overall, 2006) and Peter Olvecky (3rd round, 78 overall, 2004) both had excellent games, with Clutterbuck scoring a goal and an assist, and managing nine shots on goal. Olvecky seemed to come alive late in the tournament and last night he too had a goal and an assist.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s big defenseman Clayton Stoner (3rd round, 79 overall, 2004) was injured in one of his fights last night. Stoner had been one of Minnesota’s best players throughout the weekend, however, it appears that he will be out for several weeks with a separated shoulder.
St. Louis vs. Detroit
This game took double overtime to decide, as the game went back and forth, almost goal for goal throughout the three periods. In the end, it was 46 seconds into the second overtime when the game was decided on a power play goal by Detroit’s Jamie Tardif (free agent). Tardif had been quiet throughout the tournament, but he picked a great time to show some offensive skill. The final score of 4-3 on a total of 69 shots (32 St. Louis; 37 Detroit) represented some very good goaltending by the Blues’ Marek Schwarz (1st round, 17 overall, 2004) and decent netminding by Jim Howard (2nd round, 64 overall, 2003). Given Howard’s age and experience, it was somewhat surprising that he let in a couple of soft goals.
As far as skaters go, also quiet previously, but having a big game yesterday, was Detroit’s first draft pick this past June, Cory Emmerton (2nd round, 41 overall, 2006). Emmerton made three passes that turned into goals during the game, and during this game, his on-ice vision and puckhandling skills were excellent. One hopes that he will work hard on his skating, because if he improve his acceleration, Emmerton will be a first-rate player. For the second game in a row, the Donati twins posted points on the board for Detroit. In this game, Justin Donati (free agent) and his brother Tyler Donati (free agent) accounted for a goal and two assists.
Several skaters played an excellent game for the Blues. Defenseman Scott Jackson (2nd round, 37 overall, 2005) did it all. He played well in his own zone, plus he had a goal and an assist in the game. Jackson is mobile and has a heck of a shot. With a year left of Western Hockey League eligibility, it is either the NHL club or back to juniors, and although it is most likely that he will return to junior hockey, Jackson will be exciting to watch as he makes his way toward a professional career. Free agent Kevin Croxton also looked good during yesterday’s game. This is nothing new, as Croxton, who had a goal and an assist last night, has played well in games and practices over the last week. One Blues player that surprised me yesterday was camp invitee 22-year old-defenseman Steven Later. Not particularly impressive all week, Later sent a rocket of a shot from the point past Howard in the first period yesterday.
New York vs. Dallas
This consolation battle between two clubs who both ended the round robin portion of the tournament with a record of 2-1 became a shooting match early on. Eleven goals were scored on 53 shots during the game (NY-30, Dallas-23), as neither the Rangers’ Chris Holt (6th round, 180 overall, 2003), nor the Stars’ Tobias Stephan (2nd round, 34 overall, 2003) had a particularly good game (his errant pass caused one of the Rangers’ goals). Holt particularly was shaky in net as his positioning and lateral movement were not up to par. He looked particularly bad on the final, shorthanded goal, by Janos Vas (2nd round, 32 overall, 2002), that cost the Rangers the game.
On the bright side for the Rangers, prospect Dane Byers (2nd round, 48 overall, 2004) had an outstanding game last night. In fact, Byers and Benoit Pouliot of the Minnesota Wild were the best players on the ice yesterday. Byers recorded two goals and two assists in the consolation game, including a shorthanded goal at 7:30 of the first period. His skating, puckhandling, and finishing were very impressive. Also deserving mention was the play of Marvin Degon, the defenseman who is signed to an AHL contract and was in Traverse City on a tryout basis. Degon’s goal early in the third period kept the Rangers in the game, as the team had not scored since getting off to an early lead in the first period. Degon broke the Stars’ offensive momentum with his goal, and gave the Rangers a chance to regroup. For Dallas, the player of the game was Dan Hacker. Like Degon, Hacker was in Traverse City on a tryout. Last night, he tallied a goal and three assists, which was his best production of the week. For the fourth day in a row, Vojtech Polak (2nd round, 36 overall, 2003) was definitely one of the bright spots in this tournament. Yesterday, Polak registered two assists.
Columbus vs. Atlanta
If there was any question that Columbus brought the best group of prospects to this tournament, they were dispelled last night. The Blue Jackets completely overwhelmed the Thrashers in the 5-1 drubbing. Twenty-year old-goaltender Dan LaCosta (3rd round, 93, 2004) had a game that demonstrated that he is definitely ready for a professional career. Making 28 out of 29 saves on the night, LaCosta was particularly impressive early in the game, when Columbus took quite a few penalties. The Blue Jackets scored four unanswered goals to begin the game, before Atlanta replied at 6:39 in the third period. But that goal was just to spoil the Blue Jackets’ shutout, as Atlanta was never really in the game.
“Columbus played well, they were the better team,” Thrashers team coach Jeff Pyle said later. “We had opportunities early. The guys played hard, the effort was there until the end.”
The effort may have been there, but the manpower was not. The Thrashers started the game shorthanded, and grew even more so. With Alex Bourret already out, a couple other players had minor injuries heading into the game, and the team kept them out not wanting to take a chance. Atlanta started the game with 13 forwards and five defensemen. Scratches included defensemen Arturs Kulda and Jim Sharrow, goaltender Dan Turple, and forward Bourret.
Brett Sterling returned to the lineup, but fellow winger Riley Holzapfel was severely slashed in the finger in the first period and left the game bleeding and unable to hold onto his stick. Winger Myles Stoesz also suffered a stinger in his shoulder following a hit in the second period and did not return to the game.
Despite the resounding win by Columbus, there was a bright spot for Atlanta, in netminder Ondrej Pavelec (2nd round, 41 overall, 2005), who faced 43 shots and made 38 saves. Pavelec was pummeled with shots and kept his cool for the most part. He showed poise and maturity on the ice, although it was clear that he was not happy with the result.
Pyle wasn’t about to criticize his goaltender, pointing out the unfavorable bounces that ended up in the net, like a puck off a leg that resulted in a 2-on-1.
Tomas Pospisil scored the lone Atlanta goal unassisted on a 5-on-3 power play. Standing at the right post, the right-hander snuck it in on the forehand off the LaCosta’s leg.
The second place finish was the Thrashers’ best ever in the tournament.
For Columbus, there were several standouts. Adam Pineault (2nd round, 46 overall, 2004) scored a goal late in the first period, and registered five shots on goal on the night. Pineault played an excellent game, creating chances for himself and his teammates. Two other repeat mentions had outstanding games. Philippe Dupuis (4th round, 104 overall, 2003) had another great game. All over the ice, Dupuis registered seven shots on goal, and tallied a goal and an assist in the game. Finally, defenseman Kris Russell (3rd round, 67 overall, 2005) played well in both zones. He registered six shots on goal and played very solidly in his own zone. Although these three skaters are singled out as doing an outstanding job last night, each of Columbus’ five goals was scored by a different player. The team was well balanced, with all four lines contributing to the scoring.
The Blue Jackets’ 2006 title, their second Traverse City championship in a row, was well deserved.
Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.