Abel to Yzerman
by George Malik on 09/12/10 at 03:50 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings’ prospects defeated the Dallas Stars by a 6-1 tally (whose box score you can take a gander at thanks to Poinstreak) at Centre Ice Arena on Saturday night, scoring the game’s first three goals, giving up one, and never looking back, but the game wasn’t necessarily a blowout in the truest hockey-related sense of the word, because the stats and scoresheet don’t tell the whole story.
ESPN Dallas’s Mark Stepenski does a better job of relating the game’s story than I could as I was sitting in the stands with the On the Wings gang, and talked through three goals (me blathering = good luck charm), Stepenski relates World Junior Championship-winning U.S. goalie and NHL.com blogger Jack Cambpell’s bad night as follows:
In the first period...
The Red Wings scored three goals in a 1:00 span early in the first period to take a 3-0 lead on the Stars and Jack Campbell, who faced some quality chances in the first period.
The first goal came came on a power play and Detroit’s Tomas Tatar made a great move and finished off the play with a great shot that found the top of the net. The second goal looked a little iffy on Campbell’s part, but Stars defenseman Antoine Corbin got beat on a race to a puck and Detroit’s Trevor Parkes beat Campbell with a shot from the left circle. A goal off a rebound in front of the net made it 3-0.
Tomas Vincour scored off a wrap-around for the Stars to make it 3-1, but Detroit scored late in the first off a great shot from the left circle by Brooks Macek to make it a 4-1 game.
In the second period...
A better period for the Stars on the scoreboard. They allowed only one goal in the second and are now down 5-1 to Detroit after two periods.
A better period for Jack Campbell, who was under siege at times in the period and came up with some big stops. He had one sequence where he lost his stick and was facing heavy pressure and still got through it.
The official scoresheet had the shots as 15-5 in favor of Detroit in the second. The Stars had a great chance when Brad Ross set up Sean Backman on a breakaway, but Backman couldn’t cash in. Backman’s looked impressive. He’s the free agent signing out of Yale. Ross, a tryout player, has looked good at times as well. Matt Tassone centered those two late in the period.
I swear to Gordie Howe, I wanted to yell, “SOUVENIR! GET IT!” but held back. The Red Wings’ goal was from one Travis Ehrhardt, who simply walked into the slot during a Stars line change, intercepted a pass and fired the puck into a gaping void behind an out-of-position Campbell.
And in the third...
The Dallas Stars lost 6-1 to Detroit in the first day of games at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
Detroit outshot the Stars 38-18 in the game. Jack Campbell got the start for the Stars and made 32 saves. He was under pressure for most of the game. He made some good saves, got beat by some good shots and probably would like to have a couple of the goals back. Not the start he wanted.
Tomas Vincour scored the only goal for the Stars, who fell behind 3-0 in the first six minutes of the game and were on their heels the rest of the way. They got outplayed thoroughly in the game. It was an impressive showing by the Red Wings, who looked sharp from the start.
If you want to read Campbell and Texas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan’s comments, by all means, go ahead.
For contrast’s sake, here’s the Wings’ lineup, from me, by myself:
Mitchell Callahan-Landon Ferraro “A”-Andrej Nestrasil
Louis-Marc Aubry-Brooks Macek-Darren Archibald
Trevor Parkes-Brent Raedeke-Stephen Johnston
Tomas Tatar-Joakim Andersson “A”-Willie Coetzee
Brian Lashoff “A” (permanent “A” and acting captain)—Gleason Fournier
Brendan Smith-Travis Ehrhardt
Alex Cord-Sebastien Piche
Scratches: Petr Mrazek (goalie), Jordan Pearce (goalie), Antonin Honejsek (forward), Brenden Kitchton (defenseman), Marc Zanetti (defenseman)
For the Stars, again, per Stempenski (I didn’t get a lineup card…I’ll have to ask the media coordinators and/or Lindy from RedWingsCentral how to get one—and yes, Sarah Lindenau is awesome):
For the record, the Stars’ personnel involved include GM Joe Nieuwendyk and, of all people, Steve Ott.
So what really happened?
A team that’s supposed to have a fantastic transition game sputtered its way up the ice, but it generated significant scoring chances by blasting pucks at or near the net and retrieving them for rebound opportunities, catching the Stars flat-footed while cycling the puck down low or pumping it back to the point, where it was rifled at the net with bodies in front.
On a night where Brendan Smith finished at a plus four, he had a rough night, struggling in his own end as he received a rude awakening as to how fast players attack puck-carrying defensemen in the AHL and how hard you can be hit after releasing a pass while flat-footed by #70, Matt Tassone (RedWingsCentral’s Stars roster sheet has players’ numbers listed).Tassone did all he could to get in a fight with anybody, going so far as to jaw at Brooks (5’9?” Maybe?) Macek on a faceoff and smash the hell out of Sebastien Piche’s right thigh on a nasty “clipping”-style hit…
As for Smith, however Travis Ehrhardt both bailed his fluttery passes and shots out all night long and ended up earning his 2 goals and +5.
The second pairing’s tale was somewhat similar Gleason Fournier, full of flourish and flair as a fast-skating, slickly-slender offensive defenseman, finished pointless and at +1 because he was overpowered incredibly regularly, would reach over players to find the puck in a scrum and yet find the opponent skittering out from under his wingspan, puck intact. Lashoff, an ultra-reliable, ultra-dependable Brad Stuart-style defenseman who has only two short stints with the Grand Rapids Griffins to his name, worked his tail off and went pointless, finishing at +1, too, but Lashoff was the rock that held the PK together, he was superb on the power play, and he looked like a player who could control the game when the puck was on his stick, ever-so-reliably clearing it out of his zone or bailing a teammate (defenseman or forward) out of trouble. Lashoff told me after the game that he was asked very specifically to take on a leadership role and show the youngsters how to approach the game, but the man-mountain at 6’3” and at least 210 pounds got really, really quiet when he told me what an honor it was to be named the acting captain.
Ditto for the third. Alex Cord, the prototypical Andreas Lilja, no-frills, no-fuss, no-muss stay-at-home defenseman—a very simple one, trust me here, Lashoff has more Stuart-like underrated offensive flair—was nearly invisible at times, a few hard checks aside, while the diminutive Piche’s zero points and +3 belie the fact that he was the best defenseman on the ice not named Lashoff, firing laser-sighted passes, hard shots with that classic Al MacInnis wind-up, twisting and turning and grinding out the puck along the boards and masking opponents like a lite version of Niklas Kronwall.
Up front, I thought the best player by far was Landon Ferraro, who had no points and finished even, because he displayed a superb two-way game, expertly helming the rush, dumping the puck deep for his wingers, grinding it out on the cycle and going to the net with authority, never mind winning faceoff after faceoff, working expertly with his partner in crime, front-toothless Mitchell Callahan, a mini-mite and ball of energy who’d go to the net, get cross-checked into the net or in the head, and pop right back up to get ready for the next faceoff, and bam, he’d go right to the net or tangle with opposing forwards along the boards, both giving and taking hits while bouncing around like a pinball and roaring in on the forecheck with superb speed.
The third man on the line, Andrej Nestrasil, was equally superb despite no points and an even ranking, hustling up the left or right wing and handling the puck like the power forward he’s supposed to be, attentive and engaged and understanding of the fact that he’s expected to do nothing less than shine and score 40 goals for the QMJHL’s PEI Rocket.
Ferraro and I had our usual chat after the game, and he finally has the right stick. During the summer, he brought a few circa-2006 Easton Stealth CNT’s to camp to compensate for the fact that no Reebok stick he could find replicated the original O-Stick’s kick point, and in Everett, they use Eastons. Thus the happy marriage of player and stick.
Ferraro’s a happier player in general. He spent a week and a half in Everett before he flew in for the tournament (waking up at 3 AM to be driven to Seattle so he could get to Detroit in and then Traverse City time to not have to take the bus from Joe Louis Arena, which the vast majority of the players utilized for transportation), but he likes the fact that the Silvertips want him to play a two-way role, he likes coach Craig Hartsburg and his no-nonsense approach, and he understands that he’s going into his contract year and needs to pick up the pace. He seemed a little more solid physically as well, which is no small feat given that he’s finally got the bulk to push and shove against grown men all of two months after I last saw him a few dozen dozen bench presses short of that kind of lower body strength.
Next line: I still haven’t figured out Macek. He looked better than he did during the summer strength and conditioning camp, he’s definitely got speed and he provides a solid presence as a center who can lug the puck up the ice, and he does possess a solid shot, as evidenced by his goal, but his +4 wasn’t necessarily indicative of his all-round performance.
Darren Archibald, who registered two assists and a +5, stole the show, chugging up and down the ice and using that big 6’3,” 195-lb frame to crash, bang, smash and steal pucks from the results of his carnage. He is a north-south player in the truest sense of the word, and once he gets going, he roars along.
More subtly, however, Louis-Marc Aubry, whose parents flew in to surprise him after the game, may still look and talk like he’s all of fifteen going on close to 6’4,” and he can still get banged around pretty heavily as the recipient of a massive growth spurt over the past two years remains leaner than beef jerky, but his poise and positioning in playing a sound defensive game, balancing his ability to forecheck with deft positioning and somewhat surprising mobility for a player who hasn’t yet grown into his skates. His goal, assist, and +4 were earned despite the fact that most of the fans in the very packed bleachers probably didn’t notice him when he didn’t dent the scoresheet. Smart, smart, smart, and whisper quiet, on and off the ice.
As for Raedeke’s line, we’ll start with the worst bet first. Stephen Johnston still has the jitters sometimes when he passes, when he shoots…He’s somewhat frustrating to watch because he’s much bigger than his 6’1” height in terms of his gangly wingspan, and he retains all the promise and power forward’s flair that he possessed when the Wings drafted him, but even after his rights have expired and he’s attending this tournament as a free agent, he still hasn’t put the tools in his toolbox together. No goals, no assists, a minus one. Earned on all counts.
Trevor Parkes, I like. Aside from his faint resemblance to Chris Chelios, Aubry’s teammate plays like a power forward whose specialty is involves taking the puck off the wall and ripping it at the net very, very regularly. When he fires that puck, he chases after it, goes to the front of the net and loves to grasp and grind and sometimes get groped along the way if it means coming out of the scrum with the puck. He’s a try-out, like Archibald, and he plays he has an opportunity which he must grasp very, very tightly over the next week-and-change’s worth of hockey, and wants to ensure that he takes it. I don’t know if either player will earn a contract, but from the summer strength and development camp onward, Parkes, even more than Archibald, makes a nuisance of himself while, like Aubry, playing a sound two-way game, and his goal was earned.
Brent Raedeke didn’t register a point, assist, plus or minus or penalty minute, and he didn’t stand out, but he’s not supposed to stand out. He’s supposed to play a strong, sound defensive game while displaying hustle, grit, and much more level-headedness than a player who’s graduating from major junior hockey, utilizing the most of his stocky 6,’ 200-lb frame and short stick (a la Dan Cleary) to get the puck out of trouble in his end, use his solid speed to chug up the ice, dump that puck in or give it to a teammate and either go to the net or get back in position to bail out whoever makes a risky move or mistake, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone on the enusing faceoff or penalty-kill included. He grinds, and he does so intelligently, efficiently, and with no sense of intimidation whatsoever, even when guys like Tassone trying to take his head off, or face #52 for the Stars, Luke Gadzic, a 6’3,” 230-lb horse of a man, trying to bully his way through or over Raedeke. If there is an impediment to getting the puck out of the zone, even if he’s forechecking and is going to try to take your head off, Raedeke will either move out of the way with the puck on his stick or just eat the damn thing, get hit, and make sure that he wins the ensuing battle for the puck.
The last line was hardly the fourth. Willie Coetzee remains a whirling dervish who can’t slow himself down, possessing oodles of speed, dipsy-doodling-and-dangling capacity, superb passing vision and a high, hard, nearly wild shot, but he’s almost so talented that he can’t play simple, what he needs to do is take all that talent and distill it into simple, effective play.
Joakim Andersson was a remarkably pleasant surprise. He’s supposed to be Mr. Heavyfoot, and the image most Wings fans have of him is the picture taken right after he was drafted, skinny, gangly, looking like an 18-year-old kid. The player the Wings brought over from Sweden is a big, strong, near-fully-developed man whose body finally fills out his listed 6’2,” 205-lb status, with maybe half an inch and a few pounds more—and he’s played for the Frolunda Indians in the Eliteserien, a perennial contender, as their regular shut-down center. You can see that he may be 21, but he’s played in a men’s league with players who have a decade on him, if not, in some instances, are old enough to be his father, and he understands what it takes to play two-way hockey. In fact, he’s a pretty solid playmaker, wins most of his faceoffs, and needs to shoot more, because his shot is heavy and hard. I’ve only watched him play for two days, but at least among his fellow prospects, he stands out.
Then there’s Tomas Tatar, ever the character, from his white Reebok 11K skates with his Griffins number, 27, on them to the four-roll, 14-inch gloves with their cuffs cut off because he doesn’t like them binding his wrists. The funny thing about the kid who has “GO FOR THE GOLD” tattooed on his right forearm, in English, is that the 5’10” waterbug’s no longer a waterbug. He’s put on a good ten pounds and, like Andersson, probably actually weighs his listed 179 pounds, with ridiculously ripped Gordie Howe-style drooping shoulders, heavy thighs and core strength galore, and he’s accentuated superb, speedy and sometimes sneaky skating speed and manuverability, his wicked quick and tricky shot, nose for the net and Callahan level of enthusiasm and panache with endurance and stamina. Tatar’s much more serious than the easygoing Callahan, but he also absolutely loves to play hockey and loves the fact that he can and may very well play so strongly as a happy Grand Rapids Griffin that he could very well play a game or two for the Red Wings this year, and maybe even more games the year after that, and, eventually, should he work hard enough and be patient and persistent, eventually play for his favorite team.
I asked Tatar after the game whether Slavomir Lener’s comments about the CHL stealing players from the Czech and Slovak junior leagues was accurate, and he told me that there is no option for junior players over there. When you’re 17 and 18, you either go and play on a men’s team, like he did for HkM Zvolen, or you come to North America, because you can’t play with the 14 and 15-year-olds anymore. There is no intermediary between midget hockey and the pro ranks, no OHL, no QMJHL, WHL, USHL, nothing. You’re a kid and then you’re good enough to play in the relatively professional Slovak league or you’re not.
He also seemed a little stunned, still, about the fact that he was picked to go to Toronto for a Top Prospects shoot for Upper Deck and Panini, and his English has improved by several orders of magnitude.
I hate to use the term, “He’s the kind of kid you root for,” but it’s true. He’s just a genuinely nice young man who told me he was going to play in North America last summer, and did it, and told me that he’s going to try to play more consistently this season and, if he’s lucky, get called up for a game or two, and otherwise just learn and work hard as he slowly makes the journey to the NHL. I’m not going to suggest that you do anything less than take him at his word this time around.
As for the goaltender who stopped 17 of 18 shots against, McCollum reminds me of Jimmy Howard so much that it’s scary because he’s still trying to process all the lessons Jim Bedard teaches him and make his incredibly technically apt game nearly unconscious. He’s a very sound and strong natural athlete, but his technique’s still got holes in it, for lack of a better term, where pucks can sneak through, where his skate sticks out from the post instead of sealing it, when he stops the puck with the blocker and it rolls inward and toward his body instead of away from the net, when his glove doesn’t quite snap shut and the puck slithers out and down and he has to scramble and dive and twist back like Dominik Hasek (though he’s certainly not nearly as flexible, he is as tenacious) because he thought about how he should have stopped that puck and is now thinking about how he should cover the rebound. It’s going to take a year or two for him to truly process all the information he’s still learning, and if he can take that big brain of his and internalize what he’s learned and make conscious thought at least subconscious, all while weathering the storms and remaining even-keeled instead of worrying about the pucks that got by him (see: Manny Legace), Thomas can and will become an NHL goaltender. He just needs to think his way through it.
The individuals came together as a collective, found a Stars team off-balance and off-kilter, and managed to apply a relentless forecheck of Babcockian style and converted it into goals that pushed a big, mean and intimidating Stars roster full of [you know what] and vinegar back onto its heels. Once the Wings’ prospects had the Stars back on their heels, they kept pushing, and by the latter half of the third period, the game really Petered out because there was nothing left for either team to do than play till the clock ran down to zero. If there was a mercy rule, it would have been employed around the halfway point of the third period. None of the rambunctious Stars even wanted to get in a fight, and the shot clock read 38-18 because a team that has yet to come together was opportunistic and played like a team that was more than the sum of its sometimes-squeaking parts.
Perhaps adding to the irony, the Stars had to walk from one rink to the other as their locker room wasn’t anywhere near the playing surface. Maybe that had something to do with the result. They looked like a team that needed to get to the locker room faster than their feet could take them after the first period, and that caught up with them.
Who watched the game, and from where?
Well, as I hung out with Matt and Megan and the OtW posse, the rink’s one and only suite was jam packed with the Wings’ top executives—fittingly, on a diagonal corner of the rink, where Jim Nill’s told me that scouts like to sit—and at the other diagonal corner, on the “mezzanine,” scouts and personnel from other teams watched the Wings’ prospects as Mike Babcock, Brad McCrimmon and Paul MacLean watched intently. From the other corner, Chris Chelios chatted with several teams’ personnel as he’s not quite comfortable hanging out with the coaches or management yet. He is, as stated on Saturday, as tanned as ever and quite possibly more physically fit than Kris Draper.
Let me tell you, folks, I only caught it in passing, between periods, watching from the north end of the rink down low rather than my normal perch a few rows off center ice, but the Death Stare is real, folks, and you should not look directly into it. You shouldn’t look half-way at it. It might damage your eyesight permanently, like that one-watt laser pointer.
After the game, I did get to go into the locker room with Ted Kulfan (nice chap, by the way) and speak to Ferraro, Lashoff, Tatar and Aubry, but I’m writing this in the middle of the night (it’s getting on to 2:30 and I started this about an hour ago, with no pre-writing), so those clips will be uploaded sooner or later.
Kulfan just wrote an article on the Detroit News’s website talking to Tatar, Curt Fraser, Jiri Fischer—for the record, during practices, Keith McKittrick joins Fischer, Fraser, and Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek on the ice, but during games, it’s Jiri Fischer on the bench, in a suit—and Jim Nill, who I hope to corner sooner or later.
I didn’t get to the game early enough to catch the execs milling about or watching the game at the other rink as I was at the hotel (where there’s wireless internet—I need my 25-foot ethernet cable in my laptop bag to get internet at the rink) updating the blog and then quite honestly taking a quick nap and calling home for a little too long. Lesson learned.
I did get to meet two of my idols, however. I got to say hello to the Wings’ team photographer, Dave Reginek, whose images of McCollum’s new helmet, big Aubry, Smith (twice), Tatar, McCollum battling Gadzic, -4 defenseman Etienne Boutet and the Stars’ goalie, Campbell, as well as a shot of the opening faceoff and a few other pictures from the tourney should you wish to look at them…
And I met Sarah Lindenau from RedWingsCentral, who’s covered the tournament in pictorial and article form for over a decade. She’s the one who takes the pictures that websites swipe and use as profiles or wallapers, and while she might not get credit from some media types, to a blogger like me, who started out on message boards and has somehow found his way into this business through a window, remaining a biased fan…She’s a very humble legend in her own right. When nobody cared about the Wings’ first prospect tournaments, she was up here covering them, and while the level of play and the teams involved have started to generate more and more interest (I believe the NHL Network will get here on Monday or Tuesday to film the final slates of games) from around the league, if RedWingsCentral wasn’t doing it back in the day, I wouldn’t have known about the tournament until much later, I think, and the same goes for everybody reading this. She’s a far better interviewer than I am as well as she has much less sympathy for the fact that hockey players are hot, sweaty, tired and want to peel their gear off and get a shower in. I need to learn how to be less courteous and less direct in my questioning.
One day down, and the learning curve is steep. I need to catch a few hours of sleep, write the last Sunday Scuttlebutt of my Snapshots career, head to the rink for practice, come back, take a nap, and do it all over again. The Monday practices may or may not be optional and things will get very serious on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the Wings leave for TC on Thursday, the charity dinner’s on Friday and the Red Wings Commune (that would be the “and a half” I’d like to bring along) will ensure that a certain blogger actually spends his time in places other than the rink and his hotel room, at least for an evening or two.
It’s hard to remember that I’m allowed to be human, that I’m allowed to be a fan and that I’m allowed to spend the money you sent me. I had Burger King for lunch and Little Caesars (a “Hot and Ready” pizza is $5.55 here, not $5) for dinner, and breakfast was nutella on Kroger bread and a few granola bars, all doused with some Diet Pepsi and the Diet Mountain Dew I knew I’d eventually need, partially taken to the rink in a little “sippy cup” for grown-ups I bought before I cam here and can quite literally attach to my belt.
So that’s the bottom line…It’s nearly three in the morning on Sunday and I need to glance around, shower, get some sleep and do this again. If the guys take the day off on Monday I might actually sleep and go to Meijer to get some more groceries. It’s a little more draining than one would think to do double duty in monitoring other news sources and writing your own stuff and going back and forth, etc., but I’m up here as a fan who’s trying to be your eyes because you sent me here, and I’m up here as a fan who got to go into the locker room and get the, “Not today, guys” from Babcock as he brushed past Kulfan and me. Not bad.
Update, later: One more thing: In the locker room, Tatar and Ehrhardt wanted to open a can of protein powder to put into some bottled water, and quite a comic scene emerged when nobody could get the lid off of the 64-ounce plastic tub because the lid had been screwed on far too tightly. It took Tatar, Ehrhardt and Ferraro about two minutes to wrestle the thing open, with powder escaping in a “poof” when it opened, and I told Ehrhardt the following: “If they allowed cameras in here, I swear, that would be a YouTube hit by tomorrow morning.”
There are boundaries in the locker room, and even for comedy’s sake, you just don’t cross ‘em. It’s their room and we’re guests.
Update, 10:24 AM: RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau posted an article about Tatar, Willie Coetzee and the Wings’ first game, and she added a pretty dang spiffy photo gallery from Saturday’s events as well. I have a cell phone camera, which is OK, but her massive SLR…is just awesome.
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About Abel to Yzerman
Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977. No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y. Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation. There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature. Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org