The last man playing competitive hockey in the Rangers organization for the 2008-09 season wasn't even in the organization at this time last year, but he is now in position to win one of the sport's most coveted championships.
Tysen Dowzak, a 21-year-old defenseman who signed with the Blueshirts as a free agent last October, ise going after the Memorial Cup, the symbol of junior hockey supremacy in Canada, with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.
|Rangers prospect Tysen Dowzak has been a member of the Rockets for four seasons and is now part of the team's pursuit of one of hockey's greatest titles. |
The championship tournament opens Friday night, with Dowzak's Rockets facing the host Rimouski Oceanic in Rimouski, Quebec. Kelowna will play a round-robin format against Rimouski, OHL champion Windsor and QMJHL champion Drummondville.
The Memorial Cup is the oldest major amateur hockey trophy in North America, dating back to 1919. Only the Stanley Cup itself has been awarded longer than the Memorial Cup, which is a nationally televised tournament in Canada and has been a launching pad for some of the biggest names in hockey.
At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Dowzak is an imposing stay-at-home defenseman known for his hard hitting and physical game. The native of Fergus Falls, Minn., helped Kelowna dominate this year's WHL playoffs, but the Rockets' title came as a surprise. Before its postseason run, upstart Kelowna had finished the regular season only third in its own conference.
Kelowna began its march to the WHL crown with a four-game sweep of lower-seeded Kamloops and then upset the Western Conference's No. 2 team, Tri-City, in a six-game series. In the conference finals, the Rockets stunned regular-season Western Conference winner Vancouver, bouncing the Giants in six games.
The biggest shock came in the WHL finals, where Kelowna went head-to-head with the WHL's regular-season champion Calgary Hitmen, who had gone 12-0 through their first three playoff rounds after posting an eye-popping 59-9-3 record during the regular season.
Kelowna beat Calgary 3-1 in Game 1 on the road and then rocked the Hitmen again with a remarkable 5-2 win in Game 2. Dowzak assisted on the empty-net goal that closed out the second game, and Kelowna kept the pressure on with a 2-0 shutout victory in Game 3, taking an improbably 3-0 lead in the series behind goaltender Mark Guggenberger's 21-save shutout.
Calgary rallied to win Games 4 and 5 by scores of 6-2 and 6-1, but Game 6 last Saturday in Kelowna was another story. This time, the Rockets closed out the series with a 3-2 win, outshooting the Hitmen 50-26.
Dowzak played all 22 WHL playoff games for the Rockets, finishing with four assists and a plus-9 rating.
Invited to last year's Rangers training camp as an undrafted free agent, Dowzak played for the Rangers' entry at the Traverse City (Mich.) Prospects Tournament, where the Blueshirts finished sixth. He made a big impression both in Traverse City and at the Rangers main camp, which led to his signing his first pro contract on Oct. 14.
Dowzak began his 2008-09 season with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack, where he played one game before going to Charlotte for four more games at the ECHL level. At that point, the Rangers organization opted to return him to junior, where he was eligible to play as an overage member of Kelowna's roster. Dowzak went on to play 54 regular-season games with the Rockets, picking up 14 assists and finishing with an impressive plus-18 rating.
In reaching the Memorial Cup tournament, Dowzak becomes the first Rangers prospect to compete for the junior title since defenseman Mike Sauer with Medicine Hat two years ago.
Defenseman Dan Girardi
is the only current Rangers player to have won the Memorial Cup, which he captured with the London Knights in 2005. At that time, however, Girardi was an undrafted free agent who had yet to join the Rangers organization. The last drafted or signed Rangers prospect to win the Memorial Cup was Christian Dube with the Hull Olympiques in 1997.