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Canes Aim to Defend Title in Traverse City

NHL Prospects Tournament gets underway on Friday

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Soon after the Labor Day weekend, as the temperature drops and pops of red and orange dot the green landscape, Traverse City begins to drift off into a seasonal slumber.

It's not all quiet, though, as the quaint lake town trades tourists for hockey with the annual NHL Prospects Tournament, which begins Friday, Sept. 8 and runs through Tuesday, Sept. 12. The Carolina Hurricanes return to the tournament for the eighth year, and they're looking to defend their perfect 4-0 championship title from a year ago.

"We're looking to play fast-paced. We want to make sure we represent our organization well," said Mike Vellucci, head coach of this prospects team and the Charlotte Checkers. "I want the guys to show their skill, show what it took to get here, play the game the right way and win games."

Video: Maniscalco and Smith preview Traverse City Tournament

Repeating is not an easy task - in a short tournament with three round-robin games and one final match-up, virtually anything can happen - but the Hurricanes have assembled a talented squad more than capable of claiming the team's third title in Traverse City.

The Canes' roster features four first-round picks, including this year's 12th overall pick Martin Necas, who today centered a line with Warren Foegele and camp invitee Nick Schilkey.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I'm glad to be here with the guys," Necas said. "I will enjoy it."

"His speed, skill and vision out there already is quite encouraging," Vellucci said. "A player like that is just going to get better and better as the tournament goes on."

Video: Martin Necas: "I'm ready"

Other first-rounders include tournament veteran Haydn Fleury, who is making his fourth appearance in Traverse City, and sophomores Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier.

"You can see their leadership already in practice. They're jumping to the front of the lines instead of hiding in the back," Vellucci said of Bean and Gauthier. "They're both great kids and great talents. I think they feel way more comfortable right now."

To help guide the tournament newcomers and provide a blueprint for success, the Hurricanes will look to the veteran leadership of guys like Fleury, Roland McKeown, Josh Wesley and Andrew Poturalski, who have bother prior tournament and professional experience under their belts.

"It's a very good opportunity to show what we've got as individuals and a team," McKeown said. "You basically have to go 4-0 to win this tournament. You've got to bear down and be ready to go from game one because if you get behind early, it's tough to get back."

"I give those guys credit. They want to be here, and they're excited to be here," Vellucci said. "They want to win and get better and be ready for the NHL camp."

The Hurricanes were on the ice for over an hour on Thursday for the first and likely only formal practice (aside from morning skates, of course) of the week. Because instructional time is so limited, Vellucci and his staff constructed a high-paced, three-part skate that first got the group back skating and feeling the puck on their sticks, then hopped into more structural elements before finishing on special teams work.

"You want to make sure everyone is on the same page," Vellucci said. "You have to get off to a good start. You have to be ready and prepared. We had a great practice today."

"We had good pace today. It was a hard practice with good tempo," McKeown said. "It looked like everyone was sharp and ready to go, and that's a good sign."

Video: Roland McKeown: "Win one game at a time"

While wins and losses are one measureable aspect of this tournament, the developmental facets are just as important. For this group of 23 players, this week can serve as a springboard heading into Hurricanes training camp next week.

"It's a fine line between developing and winning, and we want to make sure we cover both," Vellucci said. "I'm excited to get to know the guys a little bit better."

"None of us are in the NHL, so you've got to feel uncomfortable to get better," McKeown said. "All of our focus coming into this is to make an impression and make the Hurricanes. As a unit, we all have the same goal in mind."

The Canes join the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and host Detroit Red Wings in the Gordie Howe Division, opposite the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues in the Ted Lindsay Division.

Carolina opens its three-game round-robin slate on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Detroit. The Canes then face New York at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and Chicago at 6:30 p.m. on Monday. The tournament concludes on Tuesday as the teams cross divisions to play their standings' equal; the two first-place teams will face off for the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup at 7:00 p.m. will have complete tournament coverage in Traverse City, and live streams of each game will be available both on and through the FOX Sports GO app.

2017 NHL Prospects Tournament
Friday, Sept. 8 Hurricanes Red Wings 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 9 Rangers Hurricanes 3:30 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 11 Blackhawks Hurricanes 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 12 TBD TBD TBD
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