Kevin Connauton wasn’t a first round draft pick, but he played like one Sunday in Vancouver’s opening game of the Young Stars Tournament.
The hulking defenceman was a bright spot for the Canucks as they fell to the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 in front of 5,200 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, B.C.
Magnus Paajarvi had two goals to lead the Oilers, while fellow first round draftees Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle combined for a goal and an assist, alongside a plus-2 rating.
Connauton had Vancouver’s lone goal, he rang a pair of pucks off the post, dished out a handful of hits and literally played until the final horn, despite the lopsided score. In the final minute of play, Connauton dove to rob Paajarvi of an empty-net goal, a score that would have completed the Swedish forward’s hat trick.
“I felt pretty good,” said Connauton. “First game, had a couple of jitters in that first period, but after that I thought it was going pretty good, I got my legs underneath me.”
The interesting challenge of a tournament like this is that despite wanting to put your best foot forward to impress the throngs of scouts and NHL coaches and management in attendance, it’s a team game so you’ve also got to be a team player.
Connauton found that aspect of the opening game to be a challenge, but he and the Canucks came away with enough positives to take into their second game Monday night.
“I think just jelling as a team. A lot of guys come from different things and everything and getting on the same page was probably the toughest part, but I thought we had some good chemistry, we have some good players and we’re excited for the next game.”
After being outshot 6-0 early on, the Canucks replied with 12 shots in the first period, including Connauton’s goal. From just inside the blueline, Connauton let a floater rip from the left side, a shot that wouldn’t put the Canucks on the scoreboard nine times out of ten.
Luckily this was his day.
“I just try to get as many pucks on net as possible and good things like that happen when you get shots on goal,” said Connauton, who had another great scoring chance taken away by Oilers netminder Olivier Roy in the second period.
“On that 2-on-1 Prab made a great play, I just needed to put it upstairs and I wasn’t able to do it.”
NOTES: The Canucks outshot the Oilers 29-21 overall, including 8-3 in the third period; Taylor Ellington and Alex Plante dropped the gloves toward the end of the first period – call it a draw; Vancouver was 0-for-5 on the power play, ditto for Edmonton; Eddie Lack and Michael Houser split the game with Lack stopping 14 of 15 shots and Houser finishing with four stops.
Claude Noel, new coach of the Manitoba Moose, is behind the bench for Vancouver during the Young Stars Tournament and he spoke with the media following his team’s loss.
What did you like out there coach?
“I liked our goalie, I thought he was good, I thought Lack played real well. I thought we were better in the second period and I thought we made some tired mistakes, but I thought there were some good signs, some guys were pretty good and others had some long shifts I didn’t like. It’s the first day, you’ve got to be calm and patient.”
Thoughts on your team’s effort?
“I thought our guys were good, I didn’t think we had to deal with any particular line or problems there, I thought we were good that way. I thought we could have had the game, we had enough good chances and so did they do outscore us by three, but it could have been a little bit of a different game.”
Were you guys the underdog in this game?
“Underdog, overdog, I’m not sure what we were, I don’t know our own guys let alone the other team, so I can’t tell you. The confused-dog maybe.”
Do you expect your team to be better tomorrow?
“I think as the game went on we did some better things, we made a few minor detail adjustments and it helped us and the understandings of a few things. It’ll be interesting to see if we get our legs out from under us on the fourth day during our second game. They’ll be tired tonight and they’ll be tired tomorrow morning and in these tournaments usually by the time it ends, you’re just starting to get going.”