It all comes down to tonight's game. After winning the Ted Lindsey Division at this year's Traverse City Prospect Tournament, the Blue Jackets will face off against Gordie Howe Division winners, the Chicago Blackhawks, tonight at 7 p.m. for the championship.
A win would cement the Jackets' third championship in four years and give them sole ownership of most titles in tournament history (5).
Tonight's game could be an interesting one. Chicago surprised Carolina Monday with a 9-2 win to take the number one seed. In this year's tournament, the Blackhawks are tied for first overall in goals for (15) and second in goals against (8).
This is only the third year Chicago has competed in Traverse, and a win would be their first tournament championship.
On the other side of the ice at the tournament, the Jackets have the best save percentage of all eight competing teams (.919). They are the only team to better the Blackhawks in goals against (6), and they are tied for second in goals for (12).
One of the players the Jackets will want to help find more of those goals tonight is Vitaly Abramov. Participating in his second Traverse tournament, the 19-year-old Russian is a year older, a year more mature physically, and comes bearing a QMJHL MVP Award and scoring title from last season, as well as four games experience with the Monsters where he was a point per game player (1-3-4).
Video: Vitaly Abramov on team heading to championship game
In three games in this year's tournament, he's scored two goals and three assists and is the team's shot leader (12). Even when he's not scoring he's demanding attention of both fans and defenseman alike.
"I was really impressed with him when he came in," head coach John Madden said. "He's a dog on a bone with the puck. He's all over it. He works hard, he's got a great nose for the net, he's gritty, he's got skill, and he sees the ice really well so he's got a lot of the fundamentals that you need to make the jump (to the NHL)."
The way Abramov plays makes you forget that he is on the smaller side. He may stand at 5-foot-9, but he doesn't hesitate to go to the dirty areas. At 170 lbs, Abramov is not afraid to battle for the puck in the corners or fight for space in front of the net. And if he takes a hit, and he has, he pops right back up.
"I don't think about the size," Abramov said. "I don't feel I am smaller than other guys. I work down low with big defensemen, and I don't feel it."
It's no secret that Abramov has set his sights on the NHL. And if history is any indication, Abramov is going to reach his goal sooner or later.
"In Gatineau, (Abramov) led the league in points, and was player of the year," development coach Chris Clark said. "Then he stepped right into the American League and did the exact same thing; he started and he produced and he's scaring defensemen like he does when he goes down the wing. I don't see why he couldn't do that in the NHL. He can turn a game around."
And while Abramov likes to score and likes to be the guy who puts the puck in the net, he doesn't find that the most important thing going into tonight's game.
"I enjoy being that guy who can score, who can make the plays," Abramov says with his signature smile. "But I enjoy winning more. We worked hard for this (championship) game. (To win) will be a great confidence (boost) for everybody before the main camp. That's why we want to win."
PROJECTED CBJ LINEUP:
Thurkauf - Dubois - Abramov
Bittner - Vigneault - Hodgson
MacIntyre - Maletta - Brazeau
Kirwan - Scott - Sherwood
Carlsson - Collins
Desrocher - Graves
Somerby - Savage