While the result was the same Saturday night at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, there was certainly more positivity coming from the Rangers’ side.
Despite another loss — this time 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues’ prospects that dropped the Rangers to 0-2 in the tournament — head coach Ken Gernander said he saw improvements throughout his lineup.
“We asked our guys to compete harder tonight and I think they did that,” Gernander told BlueshirtsUnited.com after the contest Saturday night. “I think we played a better game tonight than we did in Game 1, so we’re showing improvement. I guess that’s all we can ask at this point.”
St. Louis opened the scoring just 5:51 into the game and controlled the play for most of the first period. From then on, though, the Rangers upped their but could not find the back of the net. The game remained a one-goal affair until 2:13 into the third period when St. Louis went up 2-0.
2014 third-round pick Keegan Iverson was physical throughout the contest and had his legs going from the start. He had one of the team’s best opportunities in the first period when he missed the net on a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity. He was one of several players Gernander saw increase their play from 24 hours prior.
“[Iverson] played a strong game. I thought Brady Skjei played a strong game. Tambellini’s game was better tonight than the first night,” Gernander stated. “A lot of guys improved, so hopefully that’ll put us over the hump if we can show that same improvement going into Game 3 and see where it takes us for the game on Tuesday.”
Iverson said that knew more was needed from him following a minus-2 performance in Friday’s 5-2 loss to Minnesota, even if he hadn’t heard it directly.
“I didn’t really talk to [coach Gernander after Friday’s game]," Iverson said, "but I had a feeling from on the bench and the vibes we got that I needed to kind of change my game and show them what I got.”
Iverson did just that, as he played the hard-nosed style he’s known for with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
“Definitely knew I had to pick my game up and be a force and have that mentality that once I’m coming around the corner, you’d better have your head up. I think that really helped me today.”
Goaltender Brandon Halverson missed his second consecutive game Saturday as he nurses a mild ankle sprain. Free agent invitees Taylor Dupuis and Jacob Smith have each started one game thus far.
“The goaltending situation is what it is,” Gernander said. “[Halverson] was a guy we were hopefully going to highlight or showcase … but I think the two guys that were brought in have both played strong games. We’re really more right now at this point in time concerned with our team game and how we’re playing in front of them.”
It seems to be size and speed are the biggest difference players from junior hockey are noticing during this semi-pro tournament.
“There’s more speed,” said Tambellini, who finished his second season with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. “There’s older guys here, higher-skilled guys, more physical guys. It’s a competitive tournament and every team has a real good showing.”
For Iverson, it certainly appears to be the size factor. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he said he’s considered as big player in the WHL. But here, he’s seeing a change.
“There’s a lot of bigger guys here. Men, I’d say,” Iverson stated. “There’s a lot of 16 and 17-year-olds in the junior leagues right now. There’s a lot of men here, strong bodies.
“I weigh a lot for [the WHL],” Iverson added. “I play at 215 pounds, and there are guys here at 215 who are just lean. There’s a lot of men here. Just adjusting to the game and playing as physical as they are.”
Iverson said he looks at those older players as the benchmark for which he works towards.
“You see the way they play and you see the way you need to play as well,” Iverson offered. “They made it playing the way they do, and you have to bring the same compete level, if not more. You have to show them what you’ve got, show them that if that guy can play in the League, then so can I.”