LONDON, ON – Over the last three days, the 2015 Rookie Tournament proved to be a good testing ground heading into a brand new season.
For Canadiens prospects and rookie camp invitees alike, hitting the ice at Budweiser Gardens against the likes of young guns from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, afforded them the opportunity to gauge the status of their respective games with the start of training camp on the horizon.
It also afforded the Canadiens’ brass a chance to see up-and-coming players ply their trade against top-tier talent from other NHL teams, something the organization hasn’t done in quite some time.
“The fact that we were in a tournament like this, it’s new for a lot of people here. But, I think it was a good idea. We competed hard during all three games. We lost the first one in 3-on-3 overtime, and then we won the second one. In the third game, we battled until the end. I think fatigue was a factor, but I really liked our tournament,” offered head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, whose squad finished the tournament with a 1-1-1 record after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday. “It was good to be able to evaluate players in a competitive environment instead of just against future teammates. Overall, it was a great experience for all of us. We’re really happy with the results.”
As were the players themselves, some of whom likely had to stand out in Southwestern Ontario in order to extend their stay with the CH beyond the close of rookie camp on September 16.
“I think I left my mark, and I feel like I had a good tournament. I think I played my best game against Ottawa. Every time I hit the ice, I felt more and more comfortable. I think I got better every game. This is my career. This is what I want to do with my life. I think that I’m leaving here without any regrets,” shared Angelo Miceli, who registered three assists in the tournament-opener, and also demonstrated his versatility by logging a fair share of time in short-handed situations.
“I feel comfortable out there, too. It’s a step up. There isn’t as much time and space as you’d have in Junior, and the guys are a lot faster and are bigger bodies, but I thought I performed well,” added Miceli, a Montreal native, who wrapped up a five-year career with the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres in 2014-15. “I played on the penalty kill for the first time in my career, and I think I did a good job at that. I’m happy with what I accomplished over the weekend.”
In the case of 18-year-old Simon Bourque, who was selected 177th overall by the Canadiens back in late June in Miami, hitting the ice in London offered up a glimpse of things to come several years down the road.
“It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. There’s definitely a big difference up here than in my Junior camps. But, at the end of the day, it’s a game and I’m very happy with the experience. In the first game, I was a lot more back on my heels. I had to adapt a bit to the rhythm of the game. I’m not looking for excuses, but I think I really just let myself play [against the Senators] and I played my style of game,” offered Bourque, who claimed a QMJHL title while patrolling the blue-line for the Rimouski Oceanic this past season. “I’m not ready to say that I’m at this level just yet, though. I have confidence in my game, but there are some really good players here. They’ve got a lot of experience. That makes the difference. I still have a lot to learn. I’m here to do that.”
As for goaltender Zachary Fucale, who is set to make his pro debut in 2015-16, suiting up for high-tempo tilts this time of year served as perfect preparation for the inevitable grind ahead of him.
“Three games in three days wasn’t easy for anybody. I think I did some good things. I made mistakes here and there, but that’s normal early in the year. It’s good to play a tournament like this to really start the year on the right foot. I think there are positives to take away for everybody from this tournament,” explained Fucale, who started two of the three games the Canadiens contested during the event, including Sunday afternoon’s contest against Ottawa. “I think everyone, even the staff, enjoyed having some games with adversity and some competitiveness early on. Especially in camp, everyone wants to prove something and create some opportunities for themselves and the team. There was that little edge for everyone out there [in the game against Ottawa].”
That, if anything, is a sure sign that there’s a lot on the line right now.
“I think the young guys wanted to show us what they’re capable of. We’re asking players to show us what their strengths are and showcase their talents,” concluded Lefebvre. “It’s a bit early to say, but I think there are some guys who really showed some good stuff, and that they’re kind of a step ahead for a place at main camp.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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