The highly touted Maple Leafs' prospects opened this season's Battle of Ontario with decent checking, pretty curl 'n drag plays, a few crisp passes and a flurry of net-bound shots. Yet the Sens opened the scoring, from a turnover... by Simon Gysbers. However, as we are often reminded by the broadcast professionals, it is a game of 60 minutes and players that maintain consistent energy and impact levels over all three periods will decide outcomes.
Up front, other than calm, cool and collected Nazem Kadri, who is certainly leading by example in the "finishing the check" department, and speedy Jerry D'Amigo, offensively dominating and shooting with noticeable poise, new names looking to kick-start a pro hockey career are (in no particular order) Sam Carrick, Bradley Ross and Marcel Mueller.
On the bright side the Leafs' took no penalties but the PP unit could not click, and the hopefuls couldn't tie the score or take the lead in the first. It's quite likely the team enjoyed the benefits of professional coaching and advanced technology during the intermission. In particular, I liked Mueller's focus and intensity. Kenny Ryan shows flashes of promise as well. On Defense, I also liked Baron Smith, Drew Paris and aforementioned Gysbers.
All three Leafs goalie prospects look solid to me. It remains to be seen who among their counterparts during this entertaining rookie tournament will be invited to the Leafs' training camp. A large consideration will be given to a scorecard reflecting not only a player's contribution on the ice, as well as his contribution off the ice, but his outlook and overall attitude, especially when given constructive criticism.
So, the second period saw the Leafs' power play actually click to tie the score, on a nice tip from Brad Ross. And then the unimaginable: a short-handed goal by D'Amigo very late in the period to take the lead into the dressing room. For both players, it was their second goal of the tournament.
Early in the the 3rd, (intriguing prospect) Michael Liambis came in to "save" feisty Kadri, who was badgering a 6'4" Senator youngster, setting an aggressive pace physically.
But a few minutes later, momentum was lost, as the Leafs found themselves down two men and soon enough the score was tied, though goalie interference might have been claimed. Then another penalty, speaking of interference, called on Paris on a beauty hit in open ice - but delivered on a player without the puck. It led to another Sens goal, taking the lead on a deflection... by Simon Gysbers.
You'd have to agree, at this point in the game, with over ten minutes left in the game, the chips were down for the young Leafs now. They tried. In fact, with less than a minute left, after Kadri got leveled in the corner, and the Leafs had an extra attacker, with the goalie pulled, it was Kadri with a couple of good looks and chances to tie it up. Alas, it was not to be and the Leafs prospects did not win the game or the tournament.
Part of the "mental toughness" that is required to succeed in the NHL lies in the ability to handle criticism from coaches, as well as the media and fans alike.
In this manner, the majority of these youngsters won't be given a second chance to make a good first impression. In my books, several players managed to make a good first impression. Players like Kadri and D'Amigo, destined to play in the NHL, can afford to make a mistake (and thus take a chance on the ice), whereas players like Liambis, who needs to continuously display mental toughness, cannot.
I was hoping local big boy Richard Greenup might have played better, as well as Mikhail Stefanovich, especially the latter to see what all the fuss is about. Overall, I'm looking forward to the upcoming decisions and the next round of pre-season games, as the battle for a spot in the Leafs solidifying lineup increases over the next month.
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