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Recap: Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs, rookie tournament

The rookie tournament continued on Saturday with the Habs taking on the Leafs

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The rookie tournament continued on Saturday night at the Budweiser Gardens in London Ontario for the Montreal Canadiens squad, facing the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie squad. Both teams were looking for their first win of the tournament after dropping their first games against Pittsburgh and Ottawa respectively.

A quick side note before I dive into my thoughts on the players.

The arena was quite full for the game, and each team seemed to have equal representation in the stands which was great. Toronto fans seemed to be louder, but they also seemed to be drunker. A strong correlation between those two factors is a strong possibility. What bothered me were that certain fans seemingly forgot that they were watching rookies play in a very high pressure situation.

Too often I would hear shouts of "Shoot the puck!", "What are you doing?", "You'll never make the big leagues with that kind of pass!", and other statements of that nature. It seemed like these fans were expecting NHL calibre action, and were throwing their hands in exasperation when the defender didn't hold the line on a pass to the point. These are kids playing nervously under a microscope. There will be mistakes and there will be lessons learnt. That being said it was great to see Habs uniforms on the ice. It means that the season is only a few short weeks away! Most of these kids won't be wearing the Habs jersey this season, either heading to St. John's, Brampton, or back to their junior teams. But for a moment we should all enjoy that these kids are able to display their talents and hone their skills wearing the best jerseys in the world.

On to the game!

Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien were in attendance for tonight's game, watching the game very closely from their seats.

IceCaps head coach Sylvain Lefebvre made some minor adjustments to the line-up by scratching forwards Dryden Hunt and Brandon McNally, and defencemen Mac Bennett and Simon Bourque. Taking their place were forwards Trevor Watson and Stu Studnicka, defencemen Josiah Didier and Travis Brown. Michael McNiven was playing nets.

Michael McCarron came as advertised. He is a rather large fellow with a huge presence on the ice. He is capable of stickhandling and is very hard to move. He goes where he wants. His skating appeared slow at times, and he was passed by faster skaters on several occasions, but overall he played a solid game. His scrap in the first period was a one-sided affair after the Leaf decided to sucker punch him. McCarron transmogrified into a monster and quickly ended the fight. He will probably fight frequently in the AHL this year because he is such a target for the opposing team as he anchors the offence when he is on the ice for Montreal. He needs to park in front of the net more effectively.

Nikita Scherbak played on McCarron's wing and was great with the puck, carrying it around the Leafs zone. He was very much a playmaker all night, setting up two goals and putting pressure on the Leafs D all night. He took a lazy tripping call in the 3rd period, but overall you can see why he is a top prospect in the organization.

Speaking of top prospects, management must have loved what they saw from Charles Hudon. He scored two goals, dinged another shot off the post (third post in two games!), and was generally hard to contain due to his speed and and stickhandling skills. He will see NHL ice time this year, at the very least during preseason action, if not longer.

While Zachary Fucale had the night off, Michael McNiven was the exact opposite, having a very busy evening playing in nets. He faced 51 shots overall, stopping 48 of them on his way to a win. As a try-out during this rookie tournament he was out to prove himself worthy of a contract, and he certainly did everything in his power to earn the contract. He played calmly and rarely gave up a rebound. Shots were always absorbed, giving the Leafs nothing to work with. Great game by him.

Ryan Johnston was one of those "who?" free agent signings in July, but he is quickly making a name for himself. He played a very solid game on defence, and is probably on his way to top D-man duties in St. John's. He is very aggressive with the puck and was frequently skating into the Leafs zone and dangling the puck. He reminded me of an early version of PK Subban. Although the talent was quite obvious, he was caught out of position a couple times. He did, however,contribute offensively with two assists. Definitely an interesting prospect to watch. Good signing by Bergevin.

Joel Hanley was another "who?" free agent signing, and he also played a solid game earning an assist on the Crisp goal with a slap from the point. Hanley was playing top D minutes tonight with another strong prospect in Brett Lernout. Lernout was involved in the second scrap of the night, pummelling a Leaf until he got bored and let the refs break them up.

A player who disappointed me tonight was Daniel Carr who was on the ice for the two Leaf even strength goals, and generally just didn't look comfortable out there. He was playing on Hudon's wing as usual, but there seemed to be a lack of chemistry tonight. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was hoping more offensive showcase from him. Carr was nonetheless called to play difficult minutes in all situations and you can see that he has coach Lefebvre's trust on the ice and in the locker room as he wore the C for a second night in a row.

Game 1 darling Angelo Micelli played a much more down to Earth game tonight, starting off rather poorly with a stupid penalty which led to a Leafs goal as the penalty expired. He was relegated to sporadic even strength minutes, and was primarily used on the penalty kill. The sort of penalty he took is one that puts you in the doghouse with coaches. Not a good place to be when you are looking for a contract.

Dalton Thrower was named the first star of the game, and to be honest, I can't figure out why. He had a goal and an assist, but otherwise played a quiet game. He didn't do anything wrong, but the first star assumes a greater contribution.

Jeremy Gregoire took a stupid crosschecking penalty in front of the Leafs net in the third period that led to a 5-on-3 PP for the Leafs. Total brainfart by a reportedly intelligent player. Unfortunately that was the only time I noticed him on the ice, which is not a good impression to be left with.

Tim Bozon and Conor Crisp both scored goals in the second period off tip-ins right in front of the net. The coaches will like that sort of hustle for positioning in the crease, so probably good on them for making a good impression. Crisp seemed to get hurt after contact with a Leafs player about half way through the third period, and only played one more shift after that towards the end of the game. If anyone doesn't need another injury it's Conor Crisp who seems to get injured during every training camp.

Travis Brown was signed to an AHL contract, but even at that level I suspect he will struggle. He was hesitant at times which led to Leafs scoring chances. Based on tonight's game you can pencil him in to start in the ECHL. Josiah Didier was his D pairing partner, and played a quiet game. He's a big dude, and he lifted a Leaf player out of the Habs crease with a solid hip check. He got hit into the numbers and seemed to crash awkwardly into the boards in the third period. He did not return to the game.

Jamal Watson scored the first Habs goal on a gorgeous breakaway, and was solid throughout the game.

Jeremiah Addison and Stu Studnicka were also players who were there. They played predominantly PK minutes. Can't say they did anything that caught my eye.

Overall an enjoyable game that serves as herald of better things to come. One last tournament game tomorrow for the Habs against the Ottawa Senators, then rookie camp starts for real, followed by the big boys training camp. It's all kicking off!

Three stars
  1. Dalton Thrower (MTL)
  2. Brouillard (TOR)
  3. Nikita Scherbak (MTL)
Habs Boxscore (from memory)
  1. Watson (SH) (Thrower)
  2. Bozon (PP) (Scherbak, Johnston)
  3. Crisp (Hanley, Scherbak)
  4. Hudon (Johnston, Carr)
  5. Thrower (unassisted)
  6. Hudon (2) (EN) (unassisted)