In one of the more thrilling finishes to any game in the 13-year history of the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament, Yzerman's band of youngsters got the win via a 16-round shootout before a loud and boisterous capacity crowd at Center Ice Arena.
It was one of the most anticipated contests on the docket this week since it pitted Yzerman, the former Red Wings legend and current Tampa Bay General Manager, against his former employer. The battle lines were drawn, too, as Yzerman sat with his director of pro scouting, Pat Verbeek, in one corner of the rink, while the Red Wings' brass, including GM Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill, were perched in their usual suite directly opposite.
"I really didn't think about facing the Red Wings much. I was hoping our kids would play better than last game (a 4-2 loss) and I was focusing on watching our players and trying to get a good feel for them because, by the end of this tournament, we have to decide where these kids are going and what we're doing with them." -- Steve Yzerman
"I really didn't think about facing the Red Wings much," Yzerman said. "I was hoping our kids would play better than last game (a 4-2 loss) and I was focusing on watching our players and trying to get a good feel for them because, by the end of this tournament, we have to decide where these kids are going and what we're doing with them."
Tampa Bay goalie Jaroslav Janus, who stopped 40 shots in regulation and overtime and turned away 14 of 16 shooters in the shootout, admitted the game had a little extra meaning to the players.
"Our coach (Jon Cooper) told us we can win it for Stevie, so I'm pretty excited we did and now I'm hoping we will play really well the rest of the tournament," Janus said. "We did a good job offensively and defensively, but struggled for two minutes there in the third when Detroit came back. But we stuck together and won a hockey game."
Tampa Bay, which never has won this tournament, held a 3-1 lead entering the third period before Detroit's Tomas Tatar and Trevor Parkes each connected in the opening 3:27 of the third to square the contest. The teams battled to a scoreless five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime before entering a shootout that looked as though it never would end. Matt Butcher connected for the eventual game-winner when he beat Detroit goalie Jordan Pearce between his pads before Janus stoned Willie Coetzee to seal the deal for Yzerman and the Lightning.
"That was probably the longest shootout and longest game I've played in, so I'm very happy I could pull it out," Janus said. "You just hope your team can trust that you can stop it, and then prepare mentally for it. I waited for the shooter to make the first move and then just stop the puck."
Janus, who last season split time between Tampa Bay's American Hockey League affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, and the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters, is hoping to make a good impression at the Traverse City tournament. The Slovakian-born goalie represented his country at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa and was even voted to the tournament all-star team. He was drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round (No. 162) in the 2009 Entry Draft and signed by the club last January.
"Everyone wants to come here and show what you have and impress the scouts," he said. "I hope we'll keep winning and win the tournament. For me, I'd like to play in the AHL … or the NHL. It's every player's dream and hopefully I can make it one day."
Yzerman knows there are plenty of jobs on the line in Traverse City.
"All these kids come into camp with the hope that no matter how long a shot they have, they have a shot," Yzerman said. "Wednesday night we'll decide if (2010 first-round pick Brett Connolly) is coming down to camp with us or going back to junior. Whoever comes to camp will play in some exhibition games."
Janus will most likely begin the season with Norfolk. He went 7-6 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .922 save percentage with them last season and in 13 OHL games with Erie, he was 7-4-2, a 2.81 GAA and .918 save percentage.
Yzerman, who had praise for Connolly, Dana Tyrell and Carter Ashton when prodded, was as stern-faced after the game as he was before it.
"I was just sitting with our staff talking before the game and then the game got started so I was just sitting there watching and talking players," Yzerman said. "I'm just trying to focus on watching the players. It's a prospects tournament in early September. The Red Wings will play a meaningful game against the Tampa Bay Lightning later in the season (Feb. 17) and it'll be meaningful for both of us for various reasons at that time, so I'll look forward to that."
He's not alone.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale