Friday, September 16, 2011

Sabres defeat Rangers to win Traverse City

A good prospect tournament was once again held at Traverse City, concluding earlier this week with the Buffalo Sabres just a bit stronger than a younger New York Rangers squad that reached the Final. Both teams fought hard the other night but ultimately, the bigger more experienced club pulled away for a 5-2 championship win.

Playing their fourth game over five days, the Ranger prospects coached by a determined Ken Gernander certainly gave it their best, rallying from a two-goal deficit thanks to goals from 2011 first round pick J.T. Miller and they're most consistent forward, Ryan Bourque. Miller put away a Carl Hagelin feed in the slot that got them back in it despite Sabre dominance mostly on the strength of big line Luke Adam, Zach Kassian and Marcus Ruutu. That line combined for six points, including Adam's early power play tally followed by Ruutu's sweet finish off a Kassian set up.

The trio took advantage of a turnover that allowed Kassian to find an unchecked Ruutu 10 feet away for a quick shot that beat Ranger goalie Scott Stajcer for a two-goal lead. However, the Blueshirts replied back 19 seconds later thanks to some nice work from Hagelin in the corner, allowing Miller to cash in. After a stern talking to from Gernander who was displeased with their lack of discipline, the club cameback with a strong middle stanza. Similar to their struggles in the first, the Sabres hurt themselves with a lazy turnover resulting in Bourque's equalizer. Thanks to great pressure from Christian Thomas, the son of former NHLer Steve Thomas intercepted the puck and then got the puck to Bourque, who buried his fourth past Nathan Lieuwen.

Dylan McIlrath, who captained the Rangers- nearly put them ahead with a strong move to the net but his backhand try slipped wide. The '10 No.1 pick was alright during the tournament but definitely still needs work. Another year of juniors should help. He did use his size during a few instances, throwing some good checks and challenging when needed. He also showed off underrated passing skills, finding teammates for chances. The skating and decision making can still improve as evidenced by a pinch that forced him to take a penalty in the third.

Jason Wilson lost a scrap to Buffalo's Corey Tropp, who seemed to enjoy the festivities. Ironically, Tropp notched the winner 78 seconds into the final stanza thanks to a nice set up from Jonathan Parker. The Sabres then played steady D, limiting the Rangers to the perimeter, allowing Lieuwen (21 saves) to see everything. Gernander emphasized taking 10-15 shots but his troops couldn't break the Sabre D. Eventually, they took chances that led to Stajcer getting victimized with Daniel Catenacci beating the netminder on a clean breakaway, backhand five-hole. A move I called. The sweet finish came with five minutes remaining. Kassian put the icing on the cake with 2:13 left.

Finally, the clock wound down and the Sabres celebrated a well deserved victory. Both teams shook hands before the winners took a nice photo with their trophy. Buffalo replaced Tampa Bay, who didn't participate this year- opting to stay close to home with rival Florida.

POSITIVES

-Tim Erixon stood out on defense, making a lot of good reads while also contributing offensively. He's not expected to provide a ton of offense like now project Mike Del Zotto but it's the Swede's uncanny ability to be in the right positive defensively that has Ranger management excited. In a game they gave up a tourney high five goals, Erixon managed an Even rating while teaming with McIlrath, who finished plus-one. Erixon definitely will compete for a job with Del Zotto in camp that began today.

-As noted above, Bourque was Mr. Consistency throughout- notching a shorthanded goal while outworking opponents. A small guy who's unfairly viewed by many fans who don't pay attention, Bourque could be another gem who overachieves. He's sound overall and uses his speed effectively. Another short kid with a big heart.

-Hagelin impressed, demonstrating what four years at college can do for an afterthought. There's a lot to like here. Perhaps we'll see the Swede sometime soon.

-Of all the guys, Shane McColgan was the biggest surprise, showing off tons of grit and speed. He was willing to get dirty, scoring both his goals from in tight while providing energy and even standing up for a teammate. Looks like a character player Garden Faithful will be rooting for.

-Both Miller (2 goals) and Thomas (1-4-5) showed flashes of why they are highly regarded. Each possess speed and playmaking abilities. In particular, Thomas was really strong at finding open 'mates. Both are slippery and look like fun prospects who could be heard from.

-Randy McNaught provided a lift physically, even going in a 5-2 win over the Blues while also notching a goal.

-Jonathan Audy-Marchessault was a revelation offensively (2-3-5) but needs work in his end.


NEGATIVES

-Jyri Niemi struggled badly, often caught out of position. One such poor read led to a goal against versus Buffalo.

-Niemi wasn't alone with Blake Parlett lost defensively in spite of five helpers. He has a good shot from the point but must improve in other facets.

-Sam Noreau and Kale Kerbashian were pretty blah.

-Of the two netminders, Stajcer's considered the better prospect but was beaten easily a few times. It wasn't all his fault with plenty of breakdowns. He needs to work on challenging shooters. Especially on breakaways where he was beaten twice in the third by Catenacci and Kassian. It wasn't all bad for Staj, who made a couple of nice sprawling saves that allowed his team to get back in it.

-I didn't see enough of Jason Missiaen, who went 1-1 in his two starts.


Overall, it was a chance for the hockey community to get a closer look at their teams' prospects. One of the cooler aspects was the interactive questions used via Twitter by John Giannone and Dave Maloney, who asked guests such as Adam Graves, Mark Messier, John Davidson, Darcy RegierKen Holland, etc. quite a few. It was nice to see some familiar faces in Tweepland getting through!

All in all, a great tournament well put together and outstanding job by MSG, who when they really cover something, always go the extra mile. Kudos to the entire production crew for all their hard work and dedication.

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