TRAVERSE CITY – For the second time in as many years and the fourth time in team history, the Columbus Blue Jackets won the NHL Prospects tournament title.
The 2015 edition featured a hard-fought, 5-2 win over the host Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night at Centre Ice Arena.
The Blue Jackets earned their way into the final by winning the Ted Lindsay Division with a 2-1-0 record, bolstered by a roster that included the top two point-getters in the tournament: right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand (4-4-8) and center TJ Tynan (3-4-7).
Bjorkstrand and Tynan played on a line with left wing Kerby Rychel (1-4-5) that earned six points in the decisive game against the Red Wings. Rychel’s goal came off a precise shot to the top right corner during the third period for the final goal of the championship game.
“We were matched up against their top line,” Rychel told BlueJackets.com. “They have a lot of skill on that line, so we knew before the game that we were going to have to match them or outplay them, and I think we were all happy with our effort tonight.”
The Jackets led the entire game, facing what Rychel called a “highly skilled” Detroit team with the first goal coming from 20-year-old Nick Moutrey just 1:16 into the game.
The Jackets’ second goal came on their first power play opportunity, and it was Burlington, Ont.’s Josh Anderson, who played five games up with the Blue Jackets in 2014-15.
The Red Wings finally got on the scoreboard at 15:45, but were turned away by the Jackets’ penalty killing all night through six power plays, including a 5-on-3 opportunity early in the first period.
The second period was when, in front of a very pro-Red Wings crowd, the ice started to tilt in the Blue Jackets’ favor.
Bjorkstrand scored what would become the game winner off a 3-on-1 breakaway. And just five minutes later, Bjorkstrand’s former Portland Winterhawks linemate, Paul Bittner (participating in his first Traverse City tournament), added a goal of his own.
The Red Wings scored their second goal, pulling to within 4-2, in the final minute of the second period but were unable to find beat Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo the rest of the night.
“I thought they played their best game in the final,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “There were a lot of positives throughout the tournament.”
For Rychel, who was part of both the 2014 and 2015 championships teams, hoisting the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup is not only a reward in and of itself, it’s a significant boost going into Blue Jackets training camp, which begins Friday at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
“Each year, every guy bought in and it shows how many good prospects Columbus has,” Rychel said. “And it’s good to come to these tournaments (because) you play four games before real camp starts and you get in really good game shape.”
Like Rychel, Kekalainen is enjoying the victory but turning an eye towards the significance of the prospects’ performance as it relates to the long-term success of the Blue Jackets organization.
“The main focus is on having good prospects and guys that have NHL potential, and I think we have plenty of them,” Kekalainen said after congratulating the team. “I saw a lot of good things from our prospects. We like our group.”