TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When trophies aren’t on the line, you can at least play for pride. That was the message heard loud and clear after the prospects representing the Columbus Blue Jackets came back to snatch a victory in overtime from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday afternoon.
While a tournament champion won’t be awarded this year, there is a great chance that contracts and roster spots will be. Needless to say, there is plenty on the line here for these young players. Just getting an invite here means you are good; that you have something a team is wanting. Now, you just have to prove that, above all other invitees, you have that intangible skill or x-factor that the team cannot live without.
The Leafs Sure Are Pretty In The Fall
Before Thursday’s match against the Toronto Maple Leafs, everyone in Blue Jackets land was abuzz about first-round draft selections Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger. However, the stars of the show were Cleveland Monsters forwards Cole Fonstad and Tristan Mullin, centered by James Malatesta, the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round (133rd overall) pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
The Leafs came out strong, led by Nicholas Robertson and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. Robertson was incredibly tenacious on the puck, almost scoring on Columbus netminder Jet Greaves not even a minute into the contest.
On defense, Columbus Free-Agent invitee Mark Woolley seemed to take charge and helped settle down a jumpy Blue Jackets squad. He was not afraid to play the board and use his body to knock the Leafs off the puck. His voice boomed in the largely quiet arena. By all accounts, he was an incredibly intimidating force.
However, Toronto would come out of the first with a two-goal lead, thanks to tallies by Alexander Steeves and Der-Arguchintsev. Both goals were down low, which became a theme throughout the contest.
— Deana Weinheimer (@FPHMonsters) September 16, 2021
In the second, Columbus responded quickly. Just 1:57 in, actually. Mullin broke out on a two-on-none breakaway with linemate Malatesta and sniped it over Toronto goalie Ian Scott‘s shoulder.
After that, play seemed a lot less jumpy. Sure- there was a lot of banging, crashing, and speed. But, it all just seemed to have a purpose behind it now.
The third line of Fonstad-Malatesta-Mullin also gave the squad the tying goal at 9:21 of the second. But, just like all the other goals this game, Fonstad was down low and had to pop it up top past the goalie.
However, Toronto would come out of the second with the lead, thanks to a top-shelf power-play goal by Matt Hellickson.
In the third, Jacob Christiansen took the reins and became an absolutely needed calming presence for his squad. He wasn’t rattled by anything and became the traffic cop that this insane road required.
That seemed to be all the top line of Tyler Angle-Sillinger-Chinakhov needed to finally find their magic. Sure, Sillinger was great on faceoffs all day and the other two were dazzling at points. It just hadn’t clicked yet.
But at 4:33, that all changed. Chinakhov broke out alone with Toronto’s Joseph Duszak hot on his heels. Chinakhov wristed it past Scott for the equalizer.
Yegor Chinakhov makes it 3-3 with this wrister. pic.twitter.com/4Pvdvw03Zz
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) September 16, 2021
That score would hold until overtime. 1:06 into overtime, to be precise.
After a face-off in their offensive zone, captain Josh Dunne posted himself in front of Scott. Then, thanks to a bit of fancy footwork by Carson Meyer and Christiansen, they were able to connect with Dunne, who shot it home for the victory.
— Deana Weinheimer (@FPHMonsters) September 16, 2021
Play With Some Pride
Of course, being able to don a sweater with an NHL team’s logo is reason enough for pride. However, the greatest players and leaders realize that creating a winning culture and excelling at their roles is what matters. After the game, Dunne and Sillinger spoke a bit about what it means to wear the Blue Jackets jersey and play in the Prospects Tournament:
“Even if it’s just a prospects game, I think winning can teach winning, and it’s important to have a winning culture. Anytime you put on the jersey, you want to represent it, so it doesn’t matter if it’s an exhibition game or a rookie tournament or the real deal. You want to play with some pride and you want to win that game. It was big for us, especially the way we started. That second and third, we played with a lot of intensity and tenacity.” – Dunne
“It was super cool. You’re getting ready in the locker room and everyone’s throwing on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ jersey, so for me, that was a great experience. And for all of us, that was our first game in at least a couple months, so it was good to get that comeback and get in the thick of things.” -Sillinger
Behind the Bench
In a late turn of events, it was announced that Monsters head coach Mike Eaves would not be heading up this year’s squad of prospects. Unfortunately, shoulder surgery is keeping him out of action, allowing Trent Vogelhuber to step into a head coach role for the tournament.
Player development coach and former player for both the Blue Jackets and Monsters, Mark Letestu, is serving as one of Vogelhuber’s assistants. European development coach Jarkko Ruutu is also assisting behind the bench.
Word is that Eaves should be ready in time for the start of the Monsters season. However, if his return is delayed, Monsters fans can rest assured knowing that Vogelhuber is up to the challenge.
The Blue Jackets are slated for a 10:15 morning skate at the Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City. At 7:00 p.m., they will face the Dallas Stars.
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