TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – As the sun came up on Friday morning in Traverse City, it was time to wipe the slate clean on Thursday night’s performances. “You are only as good as your last shift,” is how the old saying goes. However, when trying to earn roster spots and contracts, you have to find a delicate balance of making each shift better than your last and putting up a complete portfolio of great work to thoroughly impress those in charge.
For these young prospects, they got a second chance to impress on Friday night in the 2021 Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
Stargazing is Hard When It’s Cloudy
As clouds started to roll in over the Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, confidence was abundant for the prospects out of Columbus. Riding high off a big comeback win in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, they were looking to continue their winning ways. On the other side, are the Dallas Stars looking for a rebound after, quite frankly, being dominated by the host Detroit Red Wings. Though the Stars lost 5-4, the score didn’t really reflect the game well.
Needless to say, the Stars needed a bounce-back here on Friday night.
Both teams came out with highly physical play to start. They were flying- and the tallies on the scoreboard reflected that. That’s two, yes two goals, in the first 1:35 of the game.
First was a sneaky yet powerful wrist shot courtesy of Yegor Chinakhov 25 seconds into the contest. The Stars answered just 1:10 later when a scramble directly in front of Blue Jackets goaltender Jet Greaves resulted in a greasy goal for Riley Tufte.
This hot start for both teams wasn’t surprising in the least. After all, these players know that this is the prime opportunity to make names for themselves. So you know they’re not looking to step down or give an inch. They’re there to show this team, these coaches, and the scouts what they’re capable of and what they’re willing to do to get the W every night.
The first period was rife with puck possession issues for the Blue Jackets. Clearing their zone seemed to come at great difficulty. At times, it seemed almost impossible. This seems to be a trend as both the Blue Jackets and AHL-affiliate Cleveland Monsters have had issues in transition before. Unfortunately, it seems to see an issue again, at least to start this upcoming season.
Some of the big names that seemed hidden to start the tournament really shined on Friday. Cole Sillinger put his slapshot on display early and often. Also on display? His mouthguard.
Mouthguard appreciation post ? pic.twitter.com/H4VdsZ2yI7
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 18, 2021
With Carson Meyer out with an upper-body injury, Sillinger, Chinakhov, and Tyler Angle really seemed to take the team on their back with no issue.
But, the Stars found their first lead of the night at 12:11 of the first. This time, it was courtesy of Wyatt Johnston. Assisting was Tufte. Two points on two goals? Not bad.
Columbus would answer with just 12 seconds remaining in the first. Jake Gaudet tallied the equalizer with a herculean second-effort on the puck and sent the teams to the locker room notched at two each.
To start the second, one theme became clear: don’t use chip plays. Typically, teams would use that to clear the puck out of their offensive zone to reset their play. Friday night, well, that wasn’t working. Almost every time a team tried this, an opposing forward was up on that play and beating them to the puck. That caused lots of rushes down the ice. Not an ideal situation.
Luckily, Greaves seemed up to that task. He appeared much more composed in this second game. Though, I think he was getting a little bit more help from his defense. They were down low and ready to bail him out at a moment’s notice.
But Jacob Peterson for the Stars had enough of that. Somehow, he found himself all alone in front of Greaves. Simple saucer pass from Ty Dellandrea on the power play, and Peterson chipped it home. Easy peasy and the Stars took the lead 3-2.
Not that the Jackets didn’t try, but the second was rough for them. Dallas was on their game, but you could see cracks forming in the armor as the contest wore on. Stanislav Svozil and Jacob Christiansen were the defensive backbone, though, going hard on the board battles and dancing on the blue line with ease. Plus, their shots weren’t bad, either. You can feel a Christiansen goal in the works by the end of this tournament.
Finally, at 17:11 of the second, the Jackets found the equalizer yet again. This time, it was Sillinger’s turn. He blasted down the middle of the ice during four-on-four play. Then, with a shot straight out of a cannon, he expertly wristed it in, chewing on his mouthguard the entire play.
The third was more of the same. However, you could see the chemistry solidifying on the Angle-Sillinger-Chinakhov and Fonstad-Gaudet-Mullin lines. James Malatesta was moved up to the second line to slot in for Meyer, but he was pairing quite nicely alongside Martin Rysavy and Josh Dunne.
A great example of that would come at 4:21. Chinakhov would get his second of the night, giving the Jackets their second and last lead of the contest. While on the power play, he found himself alone with time to spare. In a carbon copy of his first goal, he loaded up a heated wrist shot and made it 4-3 Jackets.
Shortly after, the Stars looked to be on their way to the equalizer. However, the sharp eyes and keen instincts of Jackets defenseman Ole Julian Bjorgvik-Holm spotted the developing broken play and took off to disrupt an evolving two-on-none breakaway.
Riley Damiani was seen trying to rally his squad, but two games in two nights seemed to wear more on the Stars than on the Jackets. Nevertheless, Gaudet would tally one final goal in the third while on a delayed penalty to seal the victory for the Jackets. He gathered the puck, danced around a defenseman, and snuck it past goaltender Remi Poirier.
Columbus won 5-3.
In another physical bout, the Columbus Blue Jackets top the Dallas Stars.
— Deana Weinheimer (@FPHMonsters) September 18, 2021
Putting On A Show
The fun of this game was seeing guys from both sides who might not have ended up on the score sheet, like Tim Berni, Malatesta, Damiani, and Logan Stankhoven, but were out grinding each and every shift. Their body language was loud and clear: “hey, this is what I can bring to the table.”
That’s really what the scouts, coaches, and general managers are looking for in these exhibition games. Now, full disclosure, it’s not every season you see a recent fifth-round draft selection make the Blue Jackets. However, guys like that are here to lay down their cards. You get your big names making big plays. Then there are small names making even bigger plays.
That’s the joy and fun of the Prospects Tournament. You get to see each player putting their style of game out there 100% while also working to the benefit of their team. It’s, quite honestly, a fun and thrilling watch.
Behind The Bench
There was a slight change behind the Blue Jackets bench on Friday night. Out was European development coach Jarkko Ruutu. Replacing him was newly minted player development coach, and former Blue Jacket, Derek Dorsett.
One must wonder if they are giving all of their development coaches time behind the bench this tournament.
Coming Up Next
The Jackets will have an off day today and will be free to roam Traverse City after a brief morning workout. They return to action on Sunday at 6:00 p.m., where they will face the host Detriot Red Wings at the Centre Ice Arena.
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