The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/23/14 at 04:32 AM ET
In terms of what's become a daily Red Wings programming update: on Thursday, Jakub Kindl's Czechs punched a ticket to Saturday's World Championship Quarterfinal vs. Finland at 11:45 AM EDT on Saturday, Jusitn Abdelkader checked his way into a suspension from international play thanks to a boneheaded hit, and Gustav Nyquist's Swedes booked a showdown vs. the Russians in a World Championship Quarterfinal that will take place on Saturday at 7:45 AM.
Tonight, there are no NHL games on the schedule, so the NHL Network, Sportsnet and TVA Sports will air one game: the Memorial Cup semifinal between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Anthony Mantha's Val-d'Or Foreurs, tonight at 7 PM EDT. The winner of tonight's semifinal will battle Tyler Bertuzzi's Guelph Storm for the Memorial Cup on Sunday at 4 PM, which will coincide with the second period of the World Championship's Gold Medal game (that game starts at 2 PM EDT).
The Memorial Cup experience has been starkly different for Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi played the agitator's role to the hilt and scored his fourth and fifth goals of the tournament when Guelph defeated London 7-2 on Wednesday.
Bertuzzi's playing on the third line of an absolutely stacked Guelph team, he's comfortable in his role, and on Wednesday, he and the Storm played such a familiar Ontario Hockey League opponent that the London Free Press's Ryan Pyette literally reports that the London organizers are going to be asking fans to switch allegiances to that of a hated rival--so Sunday's game provides some sort of home-crowd avantage.
Mantha's had a rougher tournament, coming from the offense-friendly Quebec League to play two OHL teams and one WHL team in Edmonton, all of which play a heavier-checking and decidedly more defensive style. Mantha scored the Foreurs' only goal against London last Friday, but Mantha finished at a -3 when Bertuzzi scored a goal en route to Guelph's 6-3 win this past Monday, and rebounded with an assist in Val-d'Or's 4-3 2 OT win over the Oil Kings on Tuesday.
The Red Wings happened to post a video chronicling Bertuzzi and Mantha's meeting...
And quite interestingly, they handed the camera over to the Grand Rapids Griffins--the team for which Mantha will most likely play next season--while shifting our focus from Mantha vs. Bertuzzi to the Memorial Cup as Tournament of Transition (though the music is the same):
Tonight, Mantha's Foreurs and the Oil Kings will meet for the second time.
Game set-up stuff, I've found it in spades; EdmontonOilers.com's Mark Ciampa dedicated two entries to the Oil Kings' preparations; the Abitibi Express's Valerie Malthais filed a French-language report suggesting that Foreurs defenseman Guillaume Gelinas may return from a knee injury tonight, and L'Echo Abitibien's game preview offers some quips worth roughly translating:
Since the beginning of the tournament, the Foreurs have tended to snooze during the first periods. Coach Durocher even repeated this routine in Thursday's practice!
"The session began slowly. The guys weren't sharp at the beginning. I told them, 'Hey! This isn't a morning skate, it's a practice for 45 minutes, and I want it to be at full speed.'"
Another of the coach's concerns involves limiting shots and not allowing the opponent to screen goaltender Antoine Bibeau.
"We need to protect our zone. Too often it's been a highway, since the beginning of the tournament. Let the tournament stop in our territory."
Forward Anthony Mantha believes the lessons learned during the first duel against the Albertan team will serve the Foreurs well.
"We should be less intimidated because we've faced them. Their lineup has very good players, but they're not Sidney Crosby, if I may say so. We have to control our stress a little better. Winning this tournament is our only goal>"
That goal's much more attainable if the Foreurs' first line finds its bearings. Mantha and Samuel Henley have scored important goals in the preliminary round, but Louis Marcotte hasn't [so much as] broken a dish thus far.
"The opportunities have been few from the beginning of the tournament. And we've felt pressure to perform throughout the year," said Marcotte.
The truth of the matter going into tonight's game is that Mantha and his linemates really do have to help carry the Foreurs if they are to make it to Sunday's final.
Val-d'Or's a very good team, but it's not as deep as Edmonton or Guelph, and while the Foreurs can thank their goaltending and secondary scorers for guiding them to the semifinal, they need their big guns to lead the way tonight.
The Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones reports that a significant amount of coach-speak was lobbed back and forth by Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal and Val-d'Or's Durocher on Thursday...
“Guelph did us a favour. It was nice to get that extra day rest,” said coach Derek Laxdal. “I think it’s important for both hockey clubs. We both went to a seventh game in our respective leagues. We just played three games in four nights here. Val-d’Or had to play back-to-back. There shouldn’t be any excuses. We have to have a better team effort from our group. We were just OK. I expect us to be better.”
Laxdal, who coached the Idaho Steelheads to the ECHL Kelly Cup, said he told his team before Game 7 of the WHL Final in Portland to think of themselves as Boise State in football. And he says he’s telling them that again.
“You look at Boise State in football. They seem to get into all those bowl games there and they beat Oklahoma, beat Oregon, beat Georgia, so you have to have that same mentality. It’s one game,” he explained.
The thing here is that Val-d’Or coach Mario Durocher figures having played Edmonton 48 hours earlier favours his team.
“We have a young team. We need to have a better start than we had that last game against them. Because we’re a young team, having played them and now being familiar with them should help us,” said Durocher.
“In our minds, we still have 120 minutes to play and we’re going to go 20 minutes by 20 minutes. That’s what we did during the playoffs and we were down three games to two in both the QMJHL semifinal and final. We were able to bring our game to an A1 game so I hope we can do the same thing again.
And Durocher had quite the conversation with Jones as to the way in which the QMJHL has embraced the Memorial Cup (with the London Free Press's conversation with Durocher and Val-d'Or GM Alexandre Rouleau serving as something of an aside) and Quebec-born players have...
Well, you'll figure it out:
“You know the first thing the QMJHL commissioner said when he handed us the Cup? ‘It’s not over.’ That’s the first thing he said on the ice. That’s the first thing we have to remember. It’s only one step. There’s another one. We’re representing our league and we need to be proud.”
There’s a Quebec hockey culture and history that’s had to change, he suggested. Like some European nations, there were historic concerns about drafting Quebec players. The stage is where you can help change that, said Durocher.
“There’s a reason why you’re winning. I think NHL people will look at that, too. Everybody is looking for a champion.
“When you’re drafting a guy, you’re looking at who brought his team to the finals. Winning is a thing in your balls, a thing you’ve got in you’re heart and you remember for the rest of your life,” he said, sounding a little like Patrick Roy. “When you never win anything and have a bad season, it’s tough to change the mentality of the kids. As a coach you need to be hard on that."
Durocher believes that the Memorial Cup's influence is being felt on the national team level, too:
“I went to Team Canada and saw that English guys are more proud to get the Canadian jersey. We do the U-17 and the Quebecers are proud to get the blue jersey and when you go to Team Canada everyone forgets. You play for your country.”
He said he tells players to go mix with the WHL guys and the OHL guys.
“The coach doesn’t like to see all the French guys sitting at one table together. Then they come back and say ‘They don’t like the French guys.’ That’s bullshit. That’s the mentality that has to change.”
He says the QMJHL mentality at the Memorial Cup has changed.
“I think at the Memorial Cup the Quebec team is more prepared. We’re proud to win the Canadian championship.”
Eventually, the players and coach got down to the business of talking about the game, and EdmontonOilers.com's Ciampa slowly guides us toward the heart of the matter:
Despite not playing all that well in any of the three round-robin games, Val d'Or finished with the second-best record and as a result will earn the distinction of being the home team tonight.
"It's huge for us because we played two series in seven games in the Q and we need some rest," said Richard, after scoring the double-OT winner to defeat the Oil Kings on Tuesday. "That two days off is huge for us."
It's no secret that Val d'Or depends heavily on the play of goaltender Antoine Bibeau. He has faced 50 or more shots in both of his team's wins.
"Antoine is just awesome," Foreurs captain Samuel Henley said. "He keeps us in the game every time. He keeps everyone calm in the room. He's such a good goalie, a good teammate and a good player. We probably wouldn't have won the game without him."
The Canadian Press's Donna Spencer suggests that tonight's match-up to watch involves the Foreurs' #8 versus the Oil Kings' #8:
The Edmonton Oil Kings want defenceman Griffin Reinhart on the ice when Anthony Mantha is Friday. With last line change as the home team, the Foreurs will attempt to spring their 82-goal man for a shift or two without the mammoth shadow of Reinhart.
"It’s Crazy Eights, right?" Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal said. "It’s going to be a challenge for Griff and it’s going to be a challenge for Mantha."
The MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal is a rematch between the Quebec and Western league champions who went to double overtime Tuesday. After 81 minutes 15 seconds — the sixth-longest-game game in tournament history — it ended 4-3 for Val-d’Or on Anthony Richard’s breakaway goal.
The semifinal victor faces the unbeaten Guelph Storm in Sunday’s final. The Ontario Hockey League champions did the Oil Kings a favour, but not the host committee, by eliminating the London Knights and preventing a tiebreaker game.
Reinhart and Mantha were teammates on Canada’s junior hockey team this year and are both first-round NHL draft picks. Mantha was the 20th overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings last year. The New York Islanders selected the six-foot-four, 215-pound Reinhart fourth overall in 2012.
"They’ve got last change so we’ll see how much I end up playing against him," the Oil Kings captain said. "I like the challenge. I know him a little bit from world juniors and it will be fun for both of us I think."
Mantha didn’t score Tuesday, but assisted on captain Samuel Henley’s third-period goal that pushed the game into overtime. The six-foot-five, 204-pound Mantha dug the puck out from the boards to Richard, who dished to Henley.
"To be honest with you I think Mantha played a pro game the last game," Foreurs coach Mario Durocher said. "He was physical. Even if he didn’t score but he got some points by making passes. He was first on the puck. He was able to play the physical game. Reinhart is a big guy, a strong guy and I think Tony needs to use his speed. He (Mantha) battled against him so I’m happy the way he played the last game."
Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar told the Edmonton Journal's Jon MacKinnon that Reinhart isn't the only player tasked with shutting down Mantha:
“I know from my aspect, when people take away my time and space, it’s tough to do anything,” Lazar said. “So we sort of have to do that on (Mantha). We have probably the best shutdown guy in junior hockey in Griffin Reinhart on our side. When he goes out there, they’re two good players going at it.”
Lazar said there really isn’t a player in the WHL comparable to Mantha, a teammate of both Lazar and Reinhart with Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden.
“A guy of his size, his scoring ability and his strength, it’s a rare breed,” Lazar said. “He can shoot the puck, too. I mean, there are a lot of players who can shoot the puck, but his accuracy is really incredible to watch. When I’m going out to block his shots, I have to make sure I’m in the lane. It’s almost like he can curve them around me, sometimes. You look at him, he just picks his spots and he can just go. He has those first and second gears where he can really change the tempo of the game and take control of situations. I know (tonight) we’re really going to have to key on him. Big players can do big things in games with a lot on the line.”
Mantha, who had scored 82 goals in 82 games — including regular-season, playoffs and the World Junior — has just scored the one goal in London, the game-winner in Val d’Or’s opening-night 1-0 win over London.
Mantha was scathingly critical of himself following the Foreurs’ 6-3 loss to unbeaten Guelph, but elevated his game in Val d’Or’s 4-3 win over Edmonton.“I talked a little bit with my teammates and the coaches,” Mantha said. “For me, it was something important that I had to step up, it’s a part of my game that I need to get better at.”
Mantha also spoke with the Edmonton Sun's Jones regarding his preparation...
“I need to be intense,” said Mantha. “I need to work hard against him especially and against any other player on the ice. I talked a little bit with my teammates and my coaches. For me it was something important that I had to step up. It’s part of my game that I need to get better at.”
“It’s going to be a great matchup,” said Edmonton coach Laxdal. “It’s going to be a challenge for Griff and it’s going to be a challenge for Anthony.
And the Oil Kings certainly doled out praise for #8:
Curtis Lazar, who has played a big part in the shutdown game defensively, said the Oil Kings know who they are going against.
“He’s the heartbeat of their hockey team. He has that great shot and we can’t let him use it. He loves taking that one-timer. He did get an assist against us but we’re on him pretty tight,” said Lazar. “The best way to shut down guys is to make them play in their own end. We want to make him defend as much as possible. We’ll just stick to the game plan and make sure we know where he is on the ice at all times.”
Sportsnet's Gare Joyce played up the drama in a "Spirit of the Thing" article:
Coming into the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament, a lot of insiders thought the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions, the Val’ d’Or Foreurs, would be lucky to win a game. Virtually all of those insiders, however, were of the opinion that the best player in the tournament was the Foreurs’ Anthony Mantha, the great long winger from Longeuil, Que., he of 57 goals in 57 regular-season games and 24 more in 24 playoff games leading up to the tournament.
Well, it’s absolutely wrong on one count and somewhat wrong on another.
On Count One, the Q’s reps have won not one but two games in securing their spot in Friday’s semifinal against Western Hockey League champions Edmonton. They’re a remarkably resilient bunch who came in and eclipsed all expectations.
On Count Two, while Mantha hasn’t exactly disappointed, he would not quite rank as his team’s best player, never mind the star of the tournament. Yeah, Detroit’s first-rounder last June scored the only goal in Val d’Or’s 1-zip win over host London in the tournament’s opener. Still, you’d have to reserve that top honour for Mantha’s teammate, goaltender Antoine Bibeau, a Leafs sixth-rounder from last June, who was completely lights out in the Foreurs’ 1-0 win over host London in the opener and 4-3 double overtime victory over the Oil Kings Tuesday night. The fact that Bibeau has outstripped Mantha just goes to the nature of short tournaments—in a seven-game series, a skater can find his game and impose himself in time, but if you’re in a rush (and at the MasterCard Memorial Cup you are definitely in a rush), goalies can come in and steal the show.
That's the rub here, and that's where I'd caution every Red Wings fan for whom Mantha's stock has fallen over the past week (especially those of you who suddenly think that Tyler Bertuzzi should make the lineup instead of Mantha next fall).
We're still talking about a 6'5," 210-pound kid who's still growing into his body as a 19-year-old, someone who's scored at a goal-a-game pace in the QMJHL, and we're talking about a player who readily admits that the learning curve's been particularly steep for him at the Memorial Cup.
Mantha hasn't had to deal with this kind of on or off-ice spotlight playing in both a much more wide-open league and playing in a small Northern Quebec town. He's been the star from afar, the star Mike Babcock had to fly to Montreal and then fly six hours north (as RedWingsCentral's Twitter account, which has been absolutely gushy about Mantha's potential, told us) to watch in person.
Mantha had a superb playoff run for Val-d'Or, but the Memorial Cup is a league champion-vs-league champion tournament, finishing second to Tampa Bay Lightning #3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin in playoff scoring, scoring 24 goals and piling up 38 points in 24 games played.
Mantha is not a perfect prospect--Drouin was picked 3rd overall as opposed to Mantha's 20th overall for a reason. He's a top prospect in the process of learning how to play at a near-professional level of hockey just prior to turning pro, and his five-or-six-game apprenticeship at the Memorial Cup will help him transition more easily to the AHL next season (if not the NHL, if he can crack the top six).
In terms of the tournament, Tyler Bertuzzi's easily out-performed Mantha, but these elite tournaments are about learning and growing as a player more than they are about stealing the show.
Bertuzzi will head back to the Guelph Storm for one more season knowing that he's shown everyone that his 6,' 170-something pound frame and instigating ways belie a surprisingly acute shot, excellent skating ability, and the kind of reliable penalty-killing that give Bertuzzi a higher potential than anybody ever thought he could display when the Wings used their "bonus pick" from the trade-down to draft Mantha 20th to pick Bertuzzi in the second round.
He's still 18 years old, just about to graduate high school, and he's still got to learn to minimize the stupid stuff after the whistle. If he continues to perform the same antics he displayed on Wednesday, he's going to last for about half a year at the pro level, and then he's going to get hurt badly by a bigger, stronger and older player who doesn't want to put up with an act that has to be tamed to survive pro hockey.
He's got to grow up mentally and physically, and while he's a fantastic short-tournament player, he's going to have to work very hard to hold up and to earn his teammates' respect over the long haul. He's got to be the kind of player who's an asset to your team instead of the *#$%@& that you barely tolerate.
For Mantha, this tournament is anything but operating in one's own comfort zone and one's opponent's discomfort zones. He's under a very different kind of spotlight, he's experiencing a whole other level of checking attention, and over the course of a short tournament, star players' magnitudes are more easily dimmed.
Even if Mantha stinks up the joint tonight because the Oil Kings check him into dust, he'll be a better player for the experience. His status as an incomplete star-in-the-making is why the Wings were able to grab both Mantha and Bertuzzi last summer.
His status as a star-in-the-making does not change, however, and his work ethic, brains and unique ability to utilize his skating and massive frame to play a "power sniper's" role still gives him an "upside" of a consistent 20-to-30-goal-scorer at the NHL level.
I don't know if he's going to be able to live up to all of that hype, but I do know that he's going to work his ass off to achieve all he possibly can as a pro hockey player. Sometimes watching tournaments like this can help us fans learn why prospects don't suddenly arrive at the pro level as "finished," mature, NHL-ready players. From Mantha to Bertuzzi to Landon Ferraro, Mitch Callahan, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and even Gustav Nyquist, players' bodies, brains and hockey skills slowly develop over time, and it is incredibly, incredibly rare that those factors intersect until YEARS after they're drafted, if they intersect at all.
Mantha's on the pro journey, and thanks to the fact that the Memorial Cup is in the international spotlight, we're able to witness a very important part of Mantha's transition from Major Junior star to player who's going to have to learn how to battle through the kind of checking he's dealt with at the Memorial Cup when he's battling more than just the best 16-to-20-year-olds in Major Junior hockey.
Like Tomas Jurco, he may not post many points at all for the first half or so of the 2014-2015 season, and he may very well look out of place among players who out-weigh him by 30 pounds of muscle and 10 years of pro hockey savvy.
That's okay! That's normal, and it's expected. As hockey fans, you and I need to be worried about Mantha's learning curve more than his immediate production, and that's why this tournament is so informative for us.
Anyway, back to Joyce:
Though the WHLers lost to the Foreurs on their first meeting, the conventional wisdom is that the Oil Kings should prevail Friday night. Maybe this time the conventional wisdom will be right. The game plan for the Oil Kings will not change dramatically: Once again they’ll send out defenceman Griffin Reinhart against Mantha every chance they get. Best-on-best is just about the best entertainment value for fans and the best measure for scouts in attendance.
We're witnessing that best-on-best over the course of a very short tournament yields radically different results for different kinds of players, and you and I are learning the kind of perspective and patience necessary to not be disappointed should Mantha not score a frickin' hat trick this evening
Joyce continues, dissecting the Mantha-vs-Reinhart battle, before concluding with the following:
You can make too much of a one-on-one matchup, the game-within-the-game. After all, the standard rules apply. Said Edmonton blueliner Blake Orban: “I wasn’t on a lot [against Mantha] but you have to do the same thing as you would against any top winger. You have to be aware of where he is and take away his time and space.”
The Oil Kings did manage to keep Mantha off the scoreboard in their first meeting—it was the rest of the Foreurs who did the damage: centre Anthony Richard with the overtime winner being the killing strike. The way the law of averages work, if you manage to keep Mantha away in one game, he gets you twice in the next.
We can hope, and we can watch. It's up to Mantha to deliver--but even if he doesn't, that's not going to be cause for major concern. He's taking part in a gigantic learning experience called the Memorial Cup, an event which is serving as a transitory period between the Major Junior and professional levels of hockey.
We're lucky enough to be able to watch him struggle, self-critique and attempt to learn and grow over the course of all of 10 days, and that's pretty dang cool.
One more thing: you might find some pleasant (and bummerific) pictures among Si's "100 Best Stanley Cup Finals Photos."
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.