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NHL Prospects Tournament September 18, 2011

Posted by calvin in Uncategorized.
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The Buffalo Sabres were invited to play in the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, MI for the first time this year, and the Sabres youth brigade acquitted themselves very well, going on to win the championship. Led by Ron Rolston, the new ‘Dean’ at the ‘Sabres University’, the team showed that the future of the Sabres seems to be in safe hands.

For those unfamiliar with the tourney, it consists of eight NHL teams, in two divisions: the Howe Division with Buffalo, Columbus, Minnesota and Detroit and the Gretzky Division featuring Carolina, Dallas, NY Rangers and St. Louis. The two division winners would meet in the final to decide the championship.

Two comfortable 6-3 wins over Columbus and Minnesota ensured the Sabres would be playing in the final. With four games in five days scheduled, the Sabres opted to rest some of the higher profile players in the last group game against Detroit, which they lost 5-2.

In the final the junior Sabres played the New York Rangers, for whom Ryan Bourque (son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque) was outstanding throughout the competition. The tourney showcased the Sabres’ excellent ability to step up to another level in the third period. Apart from the mishap against Detroit, the Sabres outscored their opponents 9-1 in the third period of their games. This kind of grit and resolve is a good sign for the future, too often in the last few years we have seen the senior team disappear in the third period, although last season it seemed that they started slowly more often than not.

After taking a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period on goals from Luke Adam and Marcus Foligno, they let the ‘Rags’ back into it in the second period to knot it at two after two. However, in the third period they showed their true mettle with some excellent short passing and movement, adding goals from Corey Tropp and Dan Catenacci with Foligno adding his second of the day to round off the triumph.

The line of Zack Kassian, Adam & Foligno played like men among boys, both in terms of physical presence and skill. While Adam has already a few NHL games under the belt, Kassian and Foligno showed they are not far behind. 2011 draft pick goalie Nathan Lieuwen and Yale graduate Ryan Rondeau with the Sabres on a tryout carried the goaltending load, playing two games each. On defense, Brayden McNabb, Nick Crawford, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, and Alex Biega all had decent outings. Among the forwards, Riley Boychuk, Corey Tropp, Jonathan Parker and Catenacci all had good showings too.

On the downside, the Sabres special teams units showed they have some ways to go compared to the other teams. The powerplay unit fizzled with just 3 goals on 25 powerplay opportunities, while shipping 3 goals on 25 penalties conceded.

My personal opinion is it would have been good for first round draft pick Joel Armia to play in the tournament as well, and start building some chemistry with the other prospects. He hasn’t had a good start to the Finnish hockey season, struggling to score there after the first two games. Bookmark Kris Baker’s excellent blog at Sabres Prospects as he follows their fortunes through the season.

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