[TTMI contributor Brad Vandenberk was on hand Thursday night for the Blackhawks-Maple Leafs prospect tournament game in London, Ontario and provides his personal account here.]
By Brad Vandenberk
Hockey season is upon us. Training camps are less than a week away from opening with exhibition games soon to follow. Before all that begins, it’s the prospect’s turn to showcase their talent in a tournament in London, Ontario that involved the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators.
Chicago’s first game was on Thursday night at the Budweiser Gardens against the “home” town Toronto Maple Leafs. The Gardens, which houses the CHL’s London Knights, was not nearly full for this affair, but Kane and Toews jerseys could be seen throughout the crowd.
Mac Carruth started between the pipes for the visiting Blackhawks. Dylan Olsen sported the “C” and Terry Broadhurst was wearing an “A”.
The kids on the Leafs side were bigger than most on the Hawks side. This showed early when Maxim Shalunov was stood up at the blue line with a thunderous hit while trying to chase a dumped puck. Carruth was called upon to be good early. The Leafs came with speed and shots. The Leafs pushed the pace and the young Hawks couldn’t keep up which caused the Chicago squad to take penalties. During the second Leafs power play Josh Leivo was sitting at the top of the circle and ripped one passed Carruth, giving the fans something to cheer about. The first ended with the Jr Hawks behind 1-0 and trailing in shots, 14-6.
Just less than 2 minutes into the second, highly-touted Hawks prospect Drew Leblanc sent a blind pass in his own zone intended for his defensemen but Toronto’s Brad Ross picked off Leblanc’s pass and went top shelf over Carruth, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead. Leblanc looked high up in the Gardens knowing that the Hawks brass watching weren’t too impressed with his effort on getting the puck out of the zone.
Leafs net minder Garret Sparks was stopping everything shot at him. The Hawks adjusted and began to swarm the net making it difficult to see the puck. Shalunov then takes an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for using too many Russian curse words toward the referees. Joakim Nordstrom tried mixing it up after receiving multiple cross checks from behind, but the refs quickly broke that up. Viktor Svedberg was quite noticeable being 6’9” and also moving very smoothly on the backend. Question is, who is the Hawks “tough guy” in this tourney?
The Leafs almost add to their lead early in the third, but Brown rings one off the post. Terry Broadhurst heads the other way and flips a soft puck on net which eludes Sparks and ignites the few Hawks fans in the crowd as they trim the Leafs lead to 2-1.
Although the Hawks weren’t as big as these Leafs, as the game wore along the speed of the Hawks prospects was at a different level. The Leafs struggled with this forcing the Leafs to take some unwanted penalties.
With 7:03 left in the game, Pat Mullane was all alone in front of the net and received a great feed from Leblanc. Mullane wasted no time and shelf’s one over Sparks tying the game at 2-2.
The Hawks continue to fly, with three great scoring opportunities in a row. The period ends tied and the Hawks regain the shot advantage 32-31. Overtime is required to decide a winner.
Overtime is 4 on 4 and the Hawks outshot the Leafs 5-0 in the 5 minute frame. Byron Froese was the only Hawk who had a chance to end the game with all kinds of time in front of the net but Sparks is there with the answer. A shootout is required to claim a winner of this contest.
Leafs fourth shooter Morgan Reilly, slips one past Carruth’s five-hole. London Knight, Alex Broadhurst , falls down and manages to beat Sparks. Tyler Biggs misses Carruth’s poke check attempt giving the Leafs a goal and the victory in game 1 of the rookie tournament.
–Philip Danault is very good along the walls and behind the opponents net. Always with his head up and moving his feet.
–Leblanc was a little out of place at times, giving pucks away and losing pucks in his feet when entering the offence zone.
–Olsen looked like a men among boys. It’s a wonder why he is at this tournament with having played 28 games at the NHL level already.
–Dillion Fournier moves real well as a D man taking every chance he had into the zone and trying to create plays.
–Svedberg is quite the specimen. Large, good skater but takes hits easily and doesn’t use his size to his advantage.
–Carruth was brilliant all game. Showing flashes of his Memorial Cup games with the Portland Winterhawks this past season.
J. Nordstrom Drew Leblanc Mark McNeill
T. Broadhurst A. Broadhurst Byron Froese
M. Shulanov Philip Danault Garret Ross
David Gilbert Pat Mullane Chris Desousa
V. Svedberg Bobby Shea
D. Olsen Dillion Fournier
Travis Brown Joe Gleason
Next up the Hawks face the Ottawa Senators at 2pm on Saturday afternoon.