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Clear Chemistry in Team White's 3-1 Win

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche
DENVER—The start of the season should be entertaining to watch if the Burgundy/White Game is any indication of the line combinations the Colorado Avalanche might use. Chemistry among the trios was evident and produced several highlight-worthy goals in the team's annual intra-squad scrimmage at Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver.

However, the connection on Team White appeared to be a little more developed on Sunday as it took a 3-1 victory over Team Burgundy. Alex Tanguay, Mikko Rantanen and Jack Skille scored for the White squad while Joey Hishon recorded Burgundy's only tally.

"There’s a lot of things that I liked obviously," said head coach Patrick Roy, who wasn't behind either bench but was instead observing both squads from the press box. "I’m curious to see a real game. Today, it was more like show the skills then with the physicality in the games and stuff like this. I think we’re going to get an even better indication; I’m curious to see Tuesday night against Anaheim.”

White's top forward lines of Mikhail Grigorenko, Nathan MacKinnon and Tanguay, and Carl Soderberg, Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanen stood out in front of a crowd of 4,803 dressed in the team's colors and produced the game's first two goals.

Team Burgundy had the better scoring chances early on in the first period, but play eventually evened out and Team White found the back of the net first with 28 second remaining before the intermission.

After receiving a cross-ice pass from MacKinnon at the right side, Tanguay was his typical, patient self. He waited for the most opportune moment, when goaltender Semyon Varlamov gave him just enough space to work with, and wristed the puck past the Avs' steady netminder.

"It was a nice pass from MacKinnon," Tanguay said. "We had a play in the neutral zone, Grigorenko just bumped into MacKinnon in a 2-on-1 and made a nice pass, and I was lucky enough to get it by Varly."

The Grigorenko-centered group had been together every day of training camp, and Roy seems to have taken notice of that instant connection.

“That line seems to click really well together," Roy said. "They were moving."

Tanguay echoed that sentiment and hinted that they might stay together for the long term.

"We easily could have had two or three more goals out there today," Tanguay said. "It’s still early in preseason. You want to make sure you build habits, build the chemistry, certainly. It seems like we are going to be playing with each other for a little bit, so we are going to try to get ourselves geared up."

White held that lead until 5:06 of the second period when Rantanen's tap-in score made it 2-0. The Finnish forward knocked the puck across the goal line after Nikita Zadorov's shot from the left point got past Varlamov and was lying in the crease, waiting for Rantanen's stick. Gabriel Landeskog also assisted on the play.

Unlike the other trio, this group's future existence depends on if Rantanen makes the team as an 18-year-old rookie. The Avs' 2015 first-round draft pick could begin the year in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage, but so far he has received solid reviews from his coach.

"I was happy to see him play with Landy and Carl, and I thought they clicked really well," Roy said of the freshman. "He is working a bit with Landy in the corners and using his body. It’s fun to see. Like I said yesterday, we are going to have some fun decisions to make.”

Rantanen also sensed that synergy.

"I think we found our chemistry pretty fast," he said of his line. "Pretty fast in the second period. First period was tough for us but after our first one I think we found our pace, and those are two great players who play in the NHL. I was really pleased to play there.”

The combo only had one practice together—on Friday—so it's understandable that it took a period or so to find that connection, but like with White's other top group, it surprisingly didn't take long.

"That’s something that is really unique. Usually you don’t find it that fast," said Landeskog of his line. "Exciting to be part of that, and I think if we get to stick together it’s something that will keep getting better."

Team White put the game out of reach in the third period as Skille, who is on a pro tryout agreement, scored off a big rebound with 5:45 remaining in regulation. Julien Nantel fired the original shot that Spencer Martin kicked right to Skille's stick on the right side. Ben Street also assisted.

As time was running down, it appeared as if the game was heading toward the series' first shutout since 2008, but Burgundy finally struck on a nice scoring sequence by Hishon and Dennis Everberg with 2:32 left. Everberg fed Hishon, who was attacking to the front of the crease and knocked the puck past Calvin Pickard before sliding into the end boards.

Hishon spent the end of last season on the Avalanche's roster and is looking to return to that position and find a more permanent home with the squad.

"This is a job for me, just like it is for everyone else in this locker room, and everyone’s trying to earn a living and play in the NHL," Hishon said about his training camp after the game. "I just have to compete as hard as I possibly can every single day, and just show that I am able to play here and compete here and contribute here.”

Four goaltenders were used in the game, with each playing roughly 30 minutes. Varlamov started for Team Burgundy, making nine saves on 11 shots, while Reto Berra stopped all 14 pucks he faced for Team White. Pickard, for White, and Martin, for Burgundy, entered the game at 10:25 of the second period and finished the contest. Pickard stopped 17 shots, while Martin denied 24 pucks.

Overall, Roy has been pleased with how each netminder has played.

"I would say all our goalies have done really well," he said. "We’re pretty happy where we are in the position of goaltender.”

Team White's win marked only the second time it has won consecutive games in the series, and the first since 2008 and 2009. Burgundy still holds a 9-6 record all time.

The coaches for the scrimmage were the organization's development consultants. Brett Clark headed the Burgundy team while Brian Willsie was the bench boss for White.

The Burgundy/White Game marks the end of training camp and the beginning of the preseason slate for the Avalanche. Colorado gets things started in two days when it hosts the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on Tuesday night.

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