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Saint John alums making mark in Traverse City

by Mike G. Morreale
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Traverse City prospects tournament is a reunion of sorts for the top junior team in the Canadian Hockey League last season.
There are seven players from the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League spread among the eight participating teams competing this week, including five drafted players and a pair of invitees.

For the record, the man most responsible for bringing in the players that made up last season's team was head scout Norm Gosselin, who is entering his second season with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2011-12.
"I don't know who does the scouting, but they did a phenomenal job because every time you watched Saint John play, it was exciting and fun to watch," Detroit Red Wings Director of Amateur Scouting Joe McDonnell told "You were watching high-end prospects every night -- it was just an exciting team and now most have been drafted. Gerard Gallant is a heck of a coach and he has a job to do to get these guys back, mentally, after the great season they had. It'll be fun to watch them again this year."
Wild prospect Zack Phillips. (Courtesy: Saint John)
The lone first-round pick of the bunch was Minnesota Wild center Zack Phillips, who was chosen 28th in June. Phillips, who routinely played on Saint John's top line with Florida Panthers prospect Jonathan Huberdeau on left wing and Washington Capitals prospect Stanislav Galiev at right wing, finished second on the team in goals (38), assists (57), points (95) and plus/minus (plus-48) in 67 regular-season games. His 15 power-play goals led the team and he won 45 percent of his faceoffs on a team-leading 969 attempts.
"Obviously, Gerard really came in and turned it around the last couple of years and we've been a contending team ever since," Phillips told "It'll be his third this year so as long as they're doing the right things there, and winning the Memorial Cup helps, we'll be OK.
"Having seven players from that team here in Traverse is really pretty cool."
Phillips, who likely will return for a third season at Saint John, suffered a minor shoulder injury during the QMJHL playoffs last season, but managed nine goals, 24 points and a plus-8 rating in 17 games. In the Memorial Cup, he had a goal, finished with four points and a plus-3 rating in four games.
"The Wild haven't said too much as far as plans go," Phillips said. "I'm just going to work hard and see what happens. I've been in Minnesota for a month working hard, so depending on how this tournament goes, we'll see what happens."
In addition to Phillips, Columbus goalie Mathieu Corbeil (No. 102, 2010) and forward Mike Thomas (invite), St. Louis forwards Stephen MacAulay (No. 164, 2010) and Ryan Tesink (No. 162, 2011), Dallas forward Scott Oke (invite) and Detroit forward Tomas Jurco (No. 35, 2011) were teammates at Saint John in 2010-11 and are participants in Traverse City this week.
Perhaps the most skilled of all the Sea Dogs was right wing Jurco, who was skating alongside promising Red Wings prospects Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson much of the tournament.


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In addition to his 31 goals and 56 points in 60 games during the regular season, Jurco was 5-for-6 in shootouts after going 9-for-11 in 2009-10, his first season in the league. His shootout percentage in two seasons is an impressive .823 (14-for-17).
"I think with our system, we're not in any rush with any players and Tomas will go back to Saint John and he knows it already," McDonnell said. "He'll go back to Saint John and produce, put up good numbers and, hopefully, win another Memorial Cup, because playing on a winning team like that is invaluable."
Saint John scored the most goals (324) and allowed the fewest (165) en route to recording a QMJHL record for wins in season with 58 in 2010-11. To fully appreciate how dominant an effort the Sea Dogs had en route to their first Memorial Cup title in six seasons of existence, consider that the franchise had won just 110 games total in its first four seasons combined.
"Down the road, you learn the culture of winning so another year there won't hurt him," McDonnell said of Jurco. "They are ranked No. 1 in Canada once again so it's going to be very interesting to see how they bounce back. But Tomas will go there and probably play in the American league for a couple of years and then we'll see what happens."
Jurco scored six times and had 18 points in 19 QMJHL playoff games, then scored four more goals in four games in the Memorial Cup. He is most noted for his tremendous stick-handling ability, which he showcased at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Toronto in January. He was the talk of the Showdown Breakaway Challenge during the skills portion of the event at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 18 following an amazing lacrosse-style scoop with his stick from between the circles, followed by a spinorama backhand whip to record a goal that received the highest score among the 12 participants.
"I saw Mike Thomas on the ice and it was weird playing against someone you sat on the bench with," Jurco said. "I hope they all do well and show how good we were last year. I'm still young and have lots of time to make the Red Wings. I'm excited to go back (to Saint John), but I'm still going to play as good as I can and show them that I'm closer and closer. I hope in the next couple of years I'm going to make it."
Tesink received limited ice time as a fourth-line grinder with the Sea Dogs, producing eight goals and 35 points in 59 games, and going 3-2-5 with a plus-6 rating in 19 playoff contests.
"It's nice to see all the guys, especially MacAulay, since we were drafted on the same team, so it's nice to go through it with someone you know," Tesink told "I think it just goes to show how good a team we had last year and now a lot of guys are getting great opportunities coming to a great tournament like this."
The 6-foot, 161-pound Tesink, a rookie last season, long will be remembered for scoring the game-winner 19:16 into the second overtime of Game 4 of the President's Cup Final against the Gatineau Olympiques last season. It ended the longest game in the history of the QMJHL championship series, and sparked Saint John to a six-game series victory.
"I want to make a great first impression on the organization at this tournament and prove I can play with older guys and stronger guys," Tesink said. "I want to show they made a great choice in drafting me and it'll be great in the long run."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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