TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – On Saturday, only one game was scheduled with an evening start in Traverse City. While this allowed most teams to enjoy the perfect weather that was given on the picturesque shorelines of Traverse Bay, the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings were treated to a beyond capacity house mostly sporting red in favor of the home crowd. Seats filled up quickly at Centre Ice Arena in anticipation of a fast-paced hockey game filled with young players looking to make an impact in their respective organizations.
In net for Detroit was 2021 first-round selection Sebastian Cossa, an incredibly raw young talent standing at an imposing 6’6″. Opposite him was Colten Ellis, a third-round choice in the 2019 draft who had just completed his last season of junior eligibility and will try to challenge the likes of Charlie Lindgren and Joel Hofer – who was scratched for the Blues tonight – for starts in Springfield this coming season.
With four first-round talents between the two teams on display, the speed and skill were sure to be on display. After the opening puck drop, however, it was clearly evident that the physicality and intensity of whichever team could impose their will would end up controlling tonight’s game.
Detroit came out with an intent to set the tone with their big line consisting of Lucas Raymond, Joe Veleno, and Jonatan Berggren. The trio had already shown chemistry in their passing plays and zone entries in their Thursday night game against Dallas. Depending on how camps go for the Red Wings, these three could see extended playing time with each other in Grand Rapids to further develop that connection between them.
St. Louis, however, gave them a rude awakening as barely a minute into the game, when a Blues defenseman rocked Berggren in the corner to the right of Ellis, sending his helmet flying to an audible gasp from the audience. The Blues made an effort early to get after the puck with intensity along the boards and to use their size to gain inside position on Red Wing forecheckers, send crisp passes to their support and exit the zone cleanly.
Having a defense anchored with sizable players like Tyler Tucker ( 6′-1″, 203 pounds), Griffin Luce (6′-3″, 217 pounds), and Tyson Galloway (6′-3″, 220 pounds), and back checkers in Alexey Toropchenko (6′-3″, 200 pounds) and Dakota Joshua (6′-2″, 199 pounds) the Blues looked to set their tone early and play the game that lined up with their size advantages on their roster.
Early on, it was Landon McCallum with a second effort play forcing Cossa to make a save and Mathias Laferriere throwing another hard check on a Red Wing defenseman, creating a turnover in Detroit’s own end that saw them fighting off repeated St. Louis pressure instead of exiting the defensive zone. This is an issue that would plague the Red Wings until the final buzzer.
The initial intensity would create a scoring chance for Riley Ginnell, and the free-agent invitee would beat Cossa on a tight, low angle to make it 1-0 just a few minutes into the game.
The Red Wings would respond with a shift in the offensive zone, but they found it difficult to build sustained pressure in the St. Louis end. Scott Perunovich, wearing the captain’s “C” for the Blues, was a key factor in those clean zone exits for St. Louis, escaping Detroit’s forecheck with smooth skating and using his vision to hit his speeding wingers up the boards and out of his end. The Blues dressed seven defensemen, and all seven looked comfortable with the puck in their own end. Even when Ellis was asked to play the puck, his defensemen communicated the best plays to move the puck to them and away from the pressure.
The Red Wings, instead, looked for offense on the rush. Raymond and Veleno nearly connected on a two-on-one chance, with the rebound kicked into the corner. Veleno’s hard forecheck created a rare turnover for Detroit, with Raymond picking the puck up and firing it through a tight angle on Ellis to tie the game just under nine minutes into the first.
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With the physical play St. Louis exerted, chippy play was sure to follow. With Patrick Curry falling to the ice, Blues forward Brayden Guy came in to finish his check with his knee catching Curry’s head, leaving the Red Wings forward visibly dazed. Both teams came together with pushing, shoving, and words for one another that would carry over throughout the period, culminating in a fight between Donovan Sebrango and Guy that lasted a full minute with both parties exchanging some serious haymakers at one another.
With the intensity starting to ramp up, St. Louis was just getting warmed up. Another turnover created on a forecheck opened the door for Keean Washkurak, who blasted a one-timer low to beat Cossa on another sharp angle to take the lead for the Blues with six minutes to go in an action-packed opening frame. On the next shift, 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours flew down the wing for a chance at Cossa, but Alex Cotton was there making an excellent defensive read on the speedy winger. Later on in the shift, Cotton would take a penalty for a high shot given to a Blues player that would put a ruthlessly effective St. Louis power play to work.
Perunovich would walk the line on the point, patiently drawing Detroit’s defenders towards him before sending a perfect pass to Hugh McGing on the opposite side with no penalty killers near him. Then, with a wide-open lane, he was able to pick his corner on the far side against Cossa to make it 3-1 in favor of St. Louis with just over 3 minutes to play.
Detroit just wasn’t collected in the opening period. They lacked any kind of tape-to-tape passes out of their zone and into the neutral zone to generate any offense. Cossa misplayed the puck that nearly cost him a fourth goal in the opening frame. An errant pass by T-Bone Codd on the powerplay turned into a shorthanded breakaway for Neighbours that nearly snuck through Cossa’s five-hole. The Red Wings must have been relieved when the horn blew to signal the end of the first.
Opening up the middle frame, St. Louis did not leave any of their intensity in the locker room. Tucker made sure to get into the face of Jared McIsaac, who was looking to make an impression on the Red Wings after missing several chunks of each of the last two seasons due to injury. Luce and Veleno also exchanged several words and a couple of stinky gloves, with a shared history in the AHL between the two division rivals.
The Blues came hard after the Wings in their own end, but early on, Cossa stood tall and was able to shake off the goals of the first by directing several hard shots into the corner and not leaving any rebounds in high danger areas in front of his crease.
Early on in the second, Detroit was given a power-play opportunity to try and claw back into this one. A board battle won on Ellis’ right side opened up a chance for a Veleno one-timer opportunity on his left that was thwarted by the flashing of Ellis’ glove hand. It was a common theme in this one that whenever the Blues defense did have that leak here or there in their system, Ellis was able to step up for a key save.
Detroit continued to struggle with their puck possession, as the sloppy play from the first carried over into the second. Again, passes weren’t hitting their mark, and St. Louis’ pressure on the forecheck continued to create turnovers. Even strength, the Red Wings could not sustain time in the Blues’ defensive zone and failed to put any real pressure on Ellis or the St. Louis defense. It seemed that the one time they managed to get a clean exit, a Cotton penalty negated it, and they were back in their own zone and down a man.
A strong Detroit kill led by Sebrango’s positioning, active stick, and key clears kept the game within reach. The Red Wings were even given another chance on the man advantage, but again their ability to connect on their passing was evident, with two exits for the Blues alone just on errant passes by Detroit that ended up leaving the zone and forcing the Red Wings to set up again. Detroit’s best chance was led by Veleno taking the puck by himself, circling the entire offensive zone, and walking through several defenders to put a quality chance on net – but once again, Ellis was there.
As the horn blew for the second, the Red Wings were running out of time for answers to match St. Louis’ intensity in this one.
To begin the final period, the Red Wings showed a bit more jump to get up into the face of the Blues’ players. Veleno saw several physical shifts, going into the boards and hitting Blues defenders hard to separate them from the puck. Kirill Tyutyayev followed suit, but in getting in the way of a player without the puck was whistled for interference. The Blues would make them pay, as Perunovich and McGing connected again on an identical play as their earlier powerplay goal to make this one 4-1 early in the third period.
Again, this was the opportunity for Detroit to respond, but as it went all night, the Red Wings could find no sustained pressure in the Blues zone, relying on rush chances from their speed down the wing but unable to corral the puck and hold onto it beyond that first shot. Credit again to the Blues players and coaches that clearly put an emphasis on quickly getting those pucks out of their zone and refusing to allow the Red Wings to set up. They outbattled Detroit along the boards all game, and the third period was no exception.
Detroit, however, refused to give up, and some effort plays from Chase Pearson and Codd yielded some badly needed second chance opportunities for the Wings, but once again, Ellis stood in there and made some big saves to preserve the lead whenever the Blues defense did yield in front of him.
There was some life here for the Red Wings, however, as they were put on the man advantage again and this time Raymond found some daylight and beat Ellis cleanly with a wrist shot from just outside the left circle to make it 4-2. Detroit had put an emphasis on setting Raymond up with his lethal shot from distance all night, and while the Blues had done a good job of neutralizing that play, the assignment was missed here, and Detroit had a chance.
That was until Pasquale Zito took a two-minute minor to put Perunovich back out there with a man advantage. Again he walked the line, but this time the Detroit penalty killers stood their ground and didn’t draw away from McGing. However, Perunovich was able to quickly pivot himself into a shooting position, and he fired a laser to the short side to restore St. Louis’ three-goal lead with time winding down in the game.
That 5-2 score would end up being the final as the Blues skated off victoriously in what felt like a road game for them in this tournament.
- If you’re following Grand Rapids, you have to be excited about the possibility of Raymond, Veleno, and Berggren building chemistry at this camp and taking it with them, possibly onto the Griffins in this coming season. Berggren was knocked out of the game early in the second, but their connection for at least a game and a third in this tournament is plain even to the casual viewer. Detroit is well known for having their talent spend time in Grand Rapids to season before bringing them into the NHL, and as such its to be expected to see at least two of the three names for an extended time with the Griffins.
- Springfield is going to be a tough team to play against this coming season. It’s to be seen yet if Guy is to be offered a contract with the team as a free agent invite, but should St. Louis/Springfield extend an offer, it would be yet another big body to add to a lineup filled with size and attitude. The Blues lineup effectively bullied their way to this win and the Red Wings, despite having some sizable players of their own, really never answered the call. St. Louis came out with a game plan from the opening puck drop and executed it methodically. Credit to their coaching staff for preparing these players for that specific play style.
- It was very uncharacteristic of the Red Wings to be so out of sync the entire game. You have to figure the coaching staff has to work on their zone exits and just simple passing plays. It’s hard to generate sustained offense by itself, but it’s ten times harder when the puck isn’t getting out of your own zone cleanly or otherwise. Columbus is another team with kids on its roster with something to prove and Detroit will have to clean up its own play before it can worry about its Sunday evening play.
The Traverse City Prospects Tournament continues on Sunday, with Toronto playing Dallas at 2:00 p.m. and Detroit taking on Columbus at 6:00 p.m. The tournament concludes with two more games on Monday afternoon featuring Dallas going up against St. Louis followed closely by Toronto rematching Columbus.
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