Traverse City, Mich. -- Sometimes you have to be lucky to score a goal.
That was Alex DeBrincat's assessment of his overtime game-winner that gave the Blackhawks their first Matthew Wuest Memorial Trophy as prospect tournament champions.
The fact that Luc Snuggerud's shot went high 90 seconds into 3-on-3 overtime was a weird bit of luck, sure. The black disk bouncing off the glass and directly back over the net involved some physics, which in hockey is a type of luck. DeBrincat's backhand swipe that connected solidly with the puck in midair, batting it behind the netminder and sending the rest of his team tumbling joyfully over the boards, was the result of his awareness of the carom, exceptional hand-eye coordination and good positioning in front of the net.
Luck, skill, whatever you want to call it -- it wouldn't be possible without hard work, as the Blackhawks showed in their 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Columbus on Tuesday. And the 61:32 preceding DeBrincat's bit of alchemy was all work, the kind of effort you'd expect to see in Game 7 of a playoff series instead of a mid-September rookie tournament with young prospects trying to shake off rusty legs.
The Blackhawks didn't storm out of the gates as they did in Monday's 9-2 walloping of Carolina that clinched them a spot in the championship matchup. They fell behind 2-0 to a pair of similar plays, failing to prevent quick centering passes that found their mark. In fact, they weren't credited with a shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of the game.
But as they've done twice before in the tournament, the team warmed up and settled in, jacking up the intensity midway through the first period and never relinquishing momentum entirely thereafter.
"It's good for their development," Rockford head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "You want to play in games that mean something. Yeah, it's a rookie tournament everyone's going to forget likely tomorrow, but we want to win everything we do. We want to compete like it's life or death in everything we do."
The Blackhawks came out roaring in the second period, and an early snipe by Radovan Bondra to finish off a 4-on-2 counterattack cut the deficit in half. Then, in the final minute, the Blackhawks capitalized on what Colliton described as an "excellent team shift." Free-agent invitee Michael Cramarossa forced the puck loose along the boards, and DeBrincat lifted a Columbus defender's stick, turned and buried a quick wrister to tie the game.
DeBrincat led all skaters at the tournament with five goals and 17 shots on goal in four games, finding the back of the net in every single outing.
"My team helped me a lot on the scoring end of things," he said. "I think I was kind of looking to play an all-around game [here]. A few games I did that; a few I had all-right games. There's a lot of room to improve, and I definitely have to be a lot better at training camp."
Other Blackhawks players had outstanding performances at the tournament as well. Snuggerud's five-point exhibition against Carolina will be hard to forget. Czech signing David Kampf, who centered DeBrincat in all four games, adapted without a hitch in his first North American competition. The undrafted Cramarossa was quietly impressive after collecting five points in just three appearances. Goaltenders Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins each had solid starts.
Rather than lean on individual performances, however, Colliton was impressed by the way the entire team came together over the course of a single week.
"It's our first time touching these guys in a real, competitive situation, so I think we're really pleased with how they progressed," he said. "It's not a lot of practice time. It says a lot about the guys we have that they were tough to play against. That's what we're looking for. If we're developing guys for the NHL, it's important to have that side of your game.
"They're good kids, good people, and they have fun," he added. "That's what you want. That's part of what the Blackhawks are trying to build here -- good people, good teammates -- and it's easy to win then."