The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/29/14 at 10:38 PM ET
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins can sweep the Abbotsford Heat out of the first round of the AHL playoffs on Wednesday, but further from the State of MIchigan, a pair of Red Wings prospects are going to be battling for league championships in short order.
On Thursday, Tyler Bertuzzi and the Guelph Storm will open the Ontario Hockey League's championship series against the North Bay Battalion, and on Tuesday evening, something of an underdog story unfolded involving a not-so-underdog prospect in Anthony Mantha:
Mantha didn't register a point as his Val-d'Or Foreurs pulled off a stunning upset, defeating the Halifax Mooseheads 3-2 and ousting the defending Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions (and Memorial Cup champs) in a 7-game knock-down, drag-out fight between Mantha's Foreurs and Jonathan Drouin's supercharged Mooseheads.
Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted goalie Antoine Bibeau, who spent a week in the visitors' net on many a night when he played in the Halifax Mooseheads' division, helped deliver a cold dish of comeuppance to the now ex-champs.
For the first time since 2009, the President's Cup winner will hail from the province mentioned in the name of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, while the CHL is guaranteed a new Memorial Cup champion after the Val-d'Or Foreurs held off Halifax 3-2 in Game 7 of the semifinal on Tuesday. In front of a Metro Centre sellout of 10,595, Val-d'Or got the payoff it sought at Christmastime when it coughed up a first-round choice to the Charlottetown Islanders for Bibeau. The veteran goalie, who spent parts of three seasons on the East Coast with the P.E.I./Charlottetown franchise, made 39 saves to deny superstar Jonathan Drouin and cohorts a return trip to the final.
"I'm proud of our team — I don't think, at the beginning of the season, anyone was talking about our team going to the final because we're still a young team," said Foreurs coach Mario Durocher, whose team won 3-of-4 games at the Metro Centre during the series with the lone loss coming in overtime. "We showed a lot of character. The depth of our team made the difference. Our fourth line scored the winning goal tonight. Defensively, all the guys made the commitment before the playoffs. Again, Bibeau was outstanding tonight but defensively we were great."
The win guarantees an all-Quebec final, with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar having the home-ice edge over the Foreurs. Philippe Cadorette's 24 saves and two special-team goals, including a power-play salvo from Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon, lifted Baie-Comeau to a 2-1 win over Blainville-Boisbriand in the night's other Game 7. Hudon's goal was his first in five games.
Cue the Mantha factor!
Val-d'Or, which forged ahead on second-period goals by Pierre-Maxime Poudrier and Maxime Presseault, has been on an impressive second-half surge. There was speculation in the fall that star Detroit Red Wings first-round pick Anthony Mantha might be traded to a contender. Instead, GM Alexandre Rouleau loaded up by dealing three picks, including a first, for Bibeau. Rouleau swung another trade with Charlottetown for 18-year-old New York Rangers-drafted defender Ryan Graves.
"Before Tony Mantha went to the world junior, we made the decision [to load up]," Durocher said. "The way we playing, the way our young kids were playing, we showed him that we had a chance to go a little further. I think it was smart ... We paid a lot but all the moves that Alex made have fallen into place. Last year, we won the first round for the first time in four or five years. This year, we talked about taking the next step."
Mantha hasn't led the Q in playoff scoring--his 18 goals, 7 assists and 25 points (registered over the course of only 17 games played) are only good for 4th in QMJHL scoring and 2nd on his own team--but RedWingsCentral cautions us to not worry about "Tony Mantha's" stats:
If Mantha or Bertuzzi's teams win their respective leagues' championships, they would advance to battle for the Memorial Cup in London, Ontario starting on May 16th.
Back here in Michigan, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins need only one more win to sweep the Abbotsford Heat out of the first round of the AHL playoffs as the AHL's first-round format is a best-of-five--and the Griffins get three chances to do so in Grand Rapids (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) as the AHL's 2-3-and-2 playoff format meant that the Griffins delivered 2-1 2OT and 7-2 victories on the road last weekend.
While Riley Sheahan (wants to still be playing playoff hockey) and Tomas Jurco (wishes he was going to the World Championships aren't delighted about being in Grand Rapids, they do provide the Griffins with a better chance to sweep the series in front of a packed Van Andel Arena crowd--and while Jurco may not be delighted with not playing for Slovakia, he is battling to defend a championship he helped secure last spring.
Surprisingly, the Griffins may end up witnessing something of a miraculous return in the form of Mitchell Callahan, as the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner reports. Callahan's been out for a month since he lost 8 teeth and suffered a broken jaw due to a Ryan Sproul shot to the choppers (and that damn infamous "selfie"):
He has long targeted April 30 to return and resumed practicing with the team April 21. He did not accompany the team when they departed April 23 for Abbotsford, but instead worked with Jiri Fischer and Mike Knuble in Detroit and Grand Rapids to help get back in playing shape.
He has practiced with a protective cage over his face, from the bridge of his nose to below his chin, and without a chin strap to avoid undue pressure on his jaw.
Callahan said he would rather not use the protective measure.
“I’d prefer not to,” he said of wearing the cage. “That’s the kind of guy I am. I kind of like just wearing a visor. But it’s in my best interest to wear the cage, and I want to be healthy and not worry about getting hurt again, so that’s going to be a good, positive thing."
The 22-year-old winger could be a valuable addition to the Griffins. His production doubled this season from 20 points (11-9-20) a year ago and he even made his NHL debut with the Red Wings in a game March 25.
Callahan’s improvement really began in the playoffs, when he had 11 points (6-5-11) in 24 games, including five in the Calder Cup finals against Syracuse.
Callahan also weighed in on his status as no longer exempt from NHL waivers next fall:
“Not only are you trying out for the Red Wings but also for 29 other teams watching you game in and game out,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. If things don’t go the way as planned with Detroit, then hopefully I can go somewhere else. But my ultimate goal is to stay in this organization.”
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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.