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Ex-Sea Dogs meet again as foes in Traverse City

Sunday, 09.08.2013 / 2:00 PM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Prospects Zack Phillips of the Minnesota Wild, Tomas Jurco of the Detroit Red Wings and Ryan Tesink of the St. Louis Blues may play for different teams, but will always share a common bond.

All three forwards were key members of the 2011 Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It was a team that throttled opponents in the regular season and accomplished a feat that no other Saint John team had done when it became champions of the Canadian Hockey League.

"It was special team; a great group of people and staff in Saint John," Jurco told NHL.com. "It's always great to see those guys at any time. I played against Zack in the American Hockey League last year and we were hanging out before and after games."

Saint John scored the most goals (324) and allowed the fewest (165) en route to recording a QMJHL record for wins in a season with 58 in 2010-11. To fully appreciate how dominating an effort the Sea Dogs exhibited en route to their first Memorial Cup title in six seasons of existence, consider that the franchise accrued 110 total victories during their first four seasons combined.

The trio is participating in the Traverse City Prospects tournament this week with the hope of making a lasting impression. It would appear that of the three players, Phillips has the best odds of possibly earning a roster spot with the big club right out of training camp while Jurco is a close second.

Phillips, a 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 28), skated in 71 games with Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate in Houston last year in his first pro season and connected for eight goals and 27 points. While he may begin the season with the team's new affiliate, the Iowa Wild, there's certainly a chance that he could receive a call-up at some point during the season and remain there if his play is good and timing is right.

"The AHL was a lot different than junior," Phillips said. "Not many guys make many mistakes and everyone is good with the puck. That's something I always looked for in Saint John; capitalizing on mistakes. I had to adjust at the pro level because if you turn the puck over, it's ending up in the back of your own net. I have learned to make the simpler plays and not try to do too much through the neutral zone. I'll try and wait until I get to the offensive zone to make my plays."

Iowa coach Kurt Kleinendorst, who is coaching the Wild prospects in Traverse City, likes what he sees in Phillips.

"He has size [6-foot-1, 196 pounds] and not that you have to be a big player to be an NHL player, but it doesn't hurt either," Kleinendorst told NHL.com. "You either do or don't and he does. His hockey sense is very high, puck skills are good and he's an intelligent player. There's still work to be done on his craft, but I would say he has good bones. He'll be OK."

Phillips, who routinely played on Saint John's top line with Florida Panthers 2011 first-round pick (No. 3) Jonathan Huberdeau on left wing, finished second on the Sea Dogs in goals (38), assists (57) and points (95) in 67 regular-season games. His 15 power-play goals led the team and he won 45 percent of his faceoffs on a team-leading 969 attempts.

"I like to play in the offensive zone and feel like I can really make some plays when I'm down there," Phillips said. "I like to use my hands in the tight areas and find the open guys, but I can also make the plays and shoot the puck too. I like to be an offensive threat pretty much any time I'm on the ice."

Jurco, a 2011 second-round pick (No. 35), also enjoys frustrating opposing defenses with his great offensive instincts. He had 31 goals and 56 points in 60 regular-season games and hit for six goals and 18 points in 19 QMJHL playoff games with the Sea Dogs in 2010-11. He then scored a team-leading four goals in four games in the 2011 Memorial Cup.

After three seasons with the Sea Dogs, the 6-2, 193-pound Slovakian played 74 games with Detroit's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids last season. As a first-year pro, he had 14 goals and 28 points. During the Griffins' Calder Cup run, he had eight goals and 14 points in 24 postseason matches. He will likely continue to mature and grow in Grand Rapids this season.

"I had to become adjusted to new systems; it's different than in junior when you lose the puck, because you're going to get it back on the same shift and get a chance out of it," Jurco said. "In the AHL, you have to protect the puck really well. Once you lose it, it's tough to get it back so that was main thing for me to learn. I had to keep that puck a little longer on my stick and make the right play."

Jurco expects to begin the year in Grand Rapids, but would relish an opportunity to get a taste of life in the NHL with the Red Wings as well.

"I'm hoping a call up to Detroit at some point," he said. "It would be good for me. That's what I'm trying to achieve this year; getting a couple of games in NHL would help a lot."

Tesink, a 2011 sixth-round pick (No. 162), received limited ice time as a fourth-line grinder for Saint John during its championship season, producing eight goals and 35 points in 59 regular-season games before contributing three goals, five points and a plus-6 rating in 19 playoff contests.

"This is my second time around in Traverse so it's a lot easier," Tesink told NHL.com. "I kind of know what the pace is going to be like. It's always nice to see old teammates; we had a couple of great seasons together and remain good friends off the ice … not on the ice."

The 6-0, 161 pounder will long be remembered for scoring the game-winner 19:16 into the second overtime of Game 4 of the President's Cup Final against the Gatineau Olympiques during the 2011 playoffs, ending the longest game in the history of the QMJHL championship series.

Tesink acknowledged that it will be tough to crack the Blues' AHL affiliate in Chicago, but he's certainly giving it everything he's got.

"If I get sent back to junior [to Blainville-Boisbriand Armada], I'll just make the best of it," he said. "It really doesn't matter. I just want to play and have a good season and do what I can to turn pro at some point."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mikemorrealeNHL

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