Traverse City, Mich.—Without their trio of captains—Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz and Gustav Forsling—as well as injured defenseman Carl Dahlstrom, the Blackhawks were shorthanded on both offense and defense when they faced the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday afternoon. And despite the final score of 3-1, it was a due to a strong group effort that the rookies held their own for 59 minutes and 22 seconds, only to concede the game-winner on a tough break.
The start wasn’t pretty, as Minnesota outshot Chicago 15-5 in the first period. But the Blackhawks found their legs in the second frame, and found sparks of creativity that were missing in Monday’s loss to Columbus.
“Yesterday, even though we were up 2-0 a lot of the game, we turned the puck over a lot,” Rockford Head Coach Ted Dent said. “Today was much better. We didn’t generate much in the first, but it ended up being a nice second and third period.”
The goalies were the story for much of the contest: free-agent invitee Brent Moran and Wild prospect Adam Vay were both strong in net, keeping the game scoreless until 7:18 of the third period, when free-agent invite Hayden Verbeek jumped on a rebound after a offensive-zone faceoff win by the Blackhawks.
The Wild put the pressure on for then next five minutes and broke through on a 2-on-1 counterattack. The game seemed destined for overtime, were it not for a late penalty taken by Radovan Bondra. And just as the Blackhawks penalty kill looked on the verge of escaping unscathed, a blocked shot by defenseman Dmitri Osipov found the stick of forward Alex Tuch, who squeezed the puck past a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner of the net.
An empty-net goal later, the Blackhawks would leave the tournament with a 1-3 record, but discounting Tuesday’s empty-netter, all three losses were by a one-goal margin, and Dent acknowledges that fatigue may have affected them the last two days.
“Because it’s the beginning of the year, guys aren’t game-ready yet for the most part,” he said. “We did get a day in between the four games; I think that helped. I’m sure there are a few guys banged up and fatigued, but I think that’s going to help them for their season.”
One player who didn’t look fatigued was free-agent invite Alexandre Fortin, whose speed became more noticeable as the game progressed. He created several scoring chances by streaking down the right wing and finding teammates for shots. On that fateful penalty kill late in the game, Fortin created a shorthanded opportunity, reading and intercepting a pass just inside the Chicago blue line and taking off on a breakaway, but his attempt was stuffed.
The 19-year-old Quebec native arrived at the Rookie Tournament hunting for a contract, and while he said his agent would resume talks with the organization after the competition, he’s certainly made a strong case over the last three games of the weekend.
“He was more noticeable today with the puck, using his wide speed and generating some nice in-tight plays around the net,” Dent said. “He’s a young guy who came in here with no real pressure, and I think he showed well.”