The Forest City hosted some of the league’s best and most-promising young talent over the weekend, thanks to the four-team, Toronto Maple Leafs’-sponsored 2013 Rookie Tournament. And team brass and fans alike can hope that some of the players who passed through the Budweiser Gardens in London, ON will serve as the foundation upon which success will be built for years to come.
The tournament pitted prospects from four franchises: the host Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Through six games, fans, coaches, and team brass saw some good, some bad, and some ugly.
Although the stats and win/losses will be forgotten tomorrow, the Ottawa Senators’ prospects ‘won’ the tournament by finishing the event with a 3-0-0 record thanks to a 6-2 victory in the tournament finale — a “Battle of Ontario Lite” against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Baby Buds finished second with a 2-1 record. The Chicago Blackhawks ended the tournament with one win and two shootout losses, while the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to win a game but did have one shootout loss.
The rookie tournament was twice as nice for the Senators. Prospects Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derek Grant, Vincent Dunn, and Shane Prince all potted two-goal games. Pageau’s came against the Blackhawks, while Grant netted his against the Penguins. Dunn, Stone, and Prince all scored two apiece in the tournament finale Sunday night against the Leafs. And throughout the tournament Prince looked a step quicker than the competition. In fact, of all the teams involved, the Senators’ offensive core was the most poised, dynamic, and lethal.
Morgan Rielly looked good, very good during the Leafs’ first game. He was the dominant offensive player, ran the power-play like a pro, and made smart decisions on when to pinch and when to lay back. He looked so good that the Leafs held him out of the subsequent two games. Why risk injury before camp? He can’t show much more against this calibre of opposition than he did.
The Penguins' Scott Harrington was in the back of the arena, unwrapping some sticks, when a person (who shall remain nameless) made a joke about his “two goals” last season. Well, there must have been some magic in those new sticks as Harrington scored a nice goal later that day during Pittsburgh’s shootout loss Saturday to the Leafs’ prospects.
Chicago’s 2011 first-rounders looked good and, as the tournament progressed they got more and more opportunities. Both Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault are known for their defensive game and they were solid on the penalty kill, but they also looked good on the power-play in the last game.
The Leafs’ Zachary Yuen also turned some heads in this tournament. Playing sound positional defense, Yuen impressed many with his puck-handling ability and command of the Leafs’ power-play, especially in game two.
The “Battle of Ontario” it may not be, but Sunday night’s finale pitted the two undefeated teams in the tournament against each other for bragging rights. The Leafs’ got off to a quick start, taking a two-goal lead into the second period, but Ottawa came roaring back, scoring six unanswered goals to give the Senators’ prospects a commanding 6-2 victory.
Somebody had to win, I guess. Pittsburgh and Chicago faced off Sunday afternoon in a battle of the unvictorious. Chicago came out on top and, if the loser point is factored in, didn’t have that bad of a tournament (one win, two overtime losses), but it really appeared to be a tale of two types of teams: the Leafs and Senators were the class of the tournament, while the Penguins and Blackhawks were also-rans.
Late nights anyone? Three of the first four games, including both night games, ended in a shootout. Chicago ended up on the short end of two of these games, losing to the Leafs and the Senators in back-to-back games. And the Leafs, who were in the 7 PM match throughout the tournament, couldn’t put anyone away early, although they beat Chicago and Pittsburgh in the shootout Thursday and Saturday night, respectively.
Bad in a good way, for some. The Leafs prospects showed a lot of that Burkian truculence throughout the tournament. Their crew of rough-and-tumble prospects put their stamp on the tournament and set a physical tone throughout.
Physicality is good, but carelessness is not. Likely as a result of these young kids trying to make their presence known and putting on a good show for the suits in the upper boxes, there were several incidents of players hitting from behind, taking runs at semi-defenseless players, and stickwork.
For example, Pittsburgh’s Bobby Farnham went nuts on one shift in the Sunday afternoon game against Chicago. He got a head of steam from the blueline and ran a guy in the corner, went to the opposite boards and delivered an ugly hit from behind, before running into a solid right cross from Bobby Shea.
The Penguins’ offense was, well, offensive. The team has invested heavily in its blueline and between the pipes over the past few drafts and it shows in the dearth of talent up front. Tom Kuhnhackl and Jean-Sebastien Dea each potted two goals in the three games, but there was not much else of which to speak.
OHL referee Scott Ferguson suffered an ugly injury during Saturday night’s Penguins-Leafs game. He was accidentally clipped from behind, fell awkwardly, and suffered a broken right ankle. It looked bad immediately as Ferguson had to be helped off the ice and couldn’t put any pressure on his skate. He was sitting in a wheelchair by the end of the game.
… And the Odd
Alex Broadhurst, like many of the London Knights peppering these rosters, drew a huge ovation from the crowd during the Blackhawks’ first game against Toronto Thursday night. However, it seems that some London fans have short memories, as he was booed by a significant portion of the pro-Leafs’ crowd when he lined up for a penalty shot. He was confused, but laughed about it the next day.
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