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Blue Jackets top Red Wings to win Traverse City title

by Mike G. Morreale

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Kerby Rychel said his team relished the role of underdog against the Detroit Red Wings in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament championship game Tuesday at Centre Ice Arena.

Rychel, a first-round pick (No. 19) in the 2013 NHL Draft, played like one by scoring a goal, contributing two assists and landing several big checks to lead the Blue Jackets' prospects to a 5-2 victory. Rychel's line, which included center TJ Tynan (2011 draft, No. 66) and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand (2013, No. 89), combined for two goals and six points to help Columbus win the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup.

"I liked our top line a lot," Blue Jackets prospects coach Jared Bednar said. "They played fast, they were working and skating hard, competing hard, and I thought all three were good again. I thought Kerby really stood out to me with his work ethic, racing and beating guys down the ice.

"I liked most of the guys in our lineup. You don't win a game like that against a team like that unless you have everyone digging in and we had our moments and some lapses, but we recovered."

The victory gives the Blue Jackets their second straight Traverse City championship and the fourth in the history of the event. Columbus won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006, and the Blue Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime in the championship game last year.

The Blue Jackets got second-period goals by Bjorkstrand, who finished a 2-on-1 with Rychel at 10:05, and Paul Bittner (2015, No. 38) at 15:54 to take a 4-1 lead.

"I felt good and was excited to play," said Rychel, the son of former NHL forward Warren Rychel. "I worked really hard in the summer to add some jump in my legs. The name of game is speed and hopefully did that.

"This was big for us because every team's best young guys were here, and to win it back-to-back is pretty special."

Rychel had 12 goals and 33 points in 51 games for the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League last season, his first as a professional. He's hoping to build on his effort in Traverse City heading into the Blue Jackets' main camp, which begins later this week.

"If he plays like he did tonight, he'll do very well in main camp," said Bednar, coach of the team's new AHL affiliate in Lake Erie. "He has the skill and vision and when he has legs like that, when he's as determined as he was and as physical as he was, he has the opportunity to win puck battles and get into the offensive zone even more. He'll give himself a good chance if he plays like that."

Vili Saarijarvi (2015, No. 73) scored with 21 seconds left in the second period to pull the Red Wings within 4-2.

Bjorkstrand, who finished with a tournament-best eight points (four goals, four assists), was the leading scorer for his team during last year's championship performance with six points (four goals).

The Blue Jackets opened a 2-0 lead in the first when second-line center Nick Moutrey (2013, No. 105) scored an even-strength goal 1:16 into the game and Josh Anderson (2012, No. 95) scored a power-play goal at 14:18. The Red Wings cut the deficit in half at 15:45 when Tomas Nosek, a free agent signee, scored off assists by Tyler Bertuzzi (2013, No. 58) and Evgeny Svechnikov (2015, No. 19).

Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (2012, No. 62), made 26 saves and finished 3-0-0 in the tournament.


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