Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?
Since it was introduced three years ago, the annual 4-on-4 tournament has become an entertaining and almost fitting way to end Blue Jackets development camp. All week long, these kids take part in on-ice drills, do some educational and fun activities away from the rink, and then take it to the big stage for an open-ice tournament in front of a jam-packed OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Oh and by the way…the entire coaching staff and management team are watching. No pressure.
But the truth is, there isn’t much pressure on the prospects during the tournament. It’s meant to be fun and competitive – emphasis on fun – but there was quite the serious ending to this installment.
The championship game ended on a penalty shot in 3-on-3 overtime, the result of a too many men on the ice penalty (!) in sudden death. Yes, a penalty. In overtime. And it was a bench minor.
Paul Bittner, who served admirably as our official Snapchat host for the week, jokingly gave the linesman MVP honors after the game. The call certainly had a few of the guys talking afterwards but it was all done with a smile.
Ed Gingher, head coach of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets U18 team, was the victorious celebrity coach today, beating out defending champion coach Boone Jenner and first-time coach Seth Jones. Cool anecdote for Gingher: two of his former players in the program, Kole Sherwood (New Albany) and Carson Meyer (Powell), were on the winning team with him.
Let’s recap the whole thing:
- Vitaly Abramov, drafted in the third round last weekend, was one of the show-stoppers. It was easy to see why the Blue Jackets were elated to get him in the third round (he was a first-rounder on their final list); his skill set is off the charts and, like Jarmo Kekalainen said after the draft, he’s 6-foot-2 in his mind, not 5-foot-9.
- Abramov scored two nifty goals, the second the tournament-winner on the aforementioned penalty shot, and both were equally impressive. The first was a head fake and patient wait-out move, and the second was a little hitch and snipe under the bar to end the thing. Kid’s fun to watch.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois scored twice in the opening game and he had a good look about him. For many shifts, he was paired up with Sonny Milano, and the two of them together produced a handful of “ooh and ahh” moments. Milano was flying around the rink.
- Big Kevin Stenlund scored a pair of goals and showed off his snappy release. With his big frame, he can hide the puck and keep goaltenders guessing whether he’s going to hang on to it, pass, or shoot, and he had a couple of those instances today. Like I mentioned earlier in the week, this is a guy to keep tabs on as he goes back to Sweden to play pro hockey.
- I feel like we’re going to hear more and more about the two Finnish defensemen: Veeti Vainio and Markus Nutivaara. Both are fluid skaters and have offensive ability, and neither was afraid to carry the puck and make something happen in the 4-on-4.
- Keegan Kolesar was an absolute stud for the Seattle Thunderbirds this year and he could have an even bigger year on deck. He’s gotten stronger each summer and has put a lot of work into his training, and he just looks like a determined player. Really interested to see his next steps this year.
- Blake Siebenaler is a one-man puck transportation unit: skating, vision, good instincts. Think it’s safe to say he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
If you weren’t able to tune in for our live broadcast on BlueJackets.com (hosted by Bob McElligott and Jody Shelley), there was an insightful interview with Lake Erie Monsters head coach Jared Bednar.
Bednar had great things to say about the numerous Blue Jackets prospects who helped the Lake Erie Monsters win a Calder Cup championship earlier this month.
Among those mentioned was 18-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski, who many believe is ready to make the jump to the NHL after an impressive playoff run in the AHL. Bednar said his arrival late in the season helped transform the team, giving them a puck-moving and decision-making element on the back end that was nothing short of elite.
“We kept giving him more and more (responsibility), and he handled it like a seasoned pro,” Bednar said. “It just shows how special this kid is.”