An intense week of practices at First Niagara Center for Buffalo Sabres development camp culminated Friday in a 3-on-3 tournament. The Sabres prospects broke off into seven teams with games played on each half of the rink.
General manager Tim Murray said the tournament was one of the best ways to gauge how his prospects have developed, even moreso than the intra-squad Blue & White Scrimmage played Tuesday night.
“It’s a battle. Everything’s a battle,” Murray said. “The guys that don’t battle, they’re on the periphery, they don’t have a big impact. It’s a lot harder type of game than it is end-to-end.
“Now it’s tougher on some players, too and I understand that. I get that the guys that are smart and skilled, it might not be in their wheelhouse. But that’s what scouting’s about, put guys in situations that probably aren’t their best situation and see how they react.”
The final game of the tournament pitted Team Gray against Team Gold after 21 round-robin games and then single-elimination play. Mark Pysyk and Hudson Fasching traded goals for Gray and Gold, respectively. In the closing minutes, it was Mikhail Grigorenko with a one-time shot that beat goaltender Nathan Lieuwen for the victory.
“It was pretty intense out there,” Grigorenko said. “Everyone wants to win, but you also need to be really smart, just understand how to play within the rules they told us to play.”
“Three-on-three’s are typically a little bit more fun and a lot more skilled game, but today, everybody out there was competitive and wants to win,” Pysyk said. “You saw that where guys were hitting, guys were backchecking in a sense and it was pretty intense out there.”
Grigorenko showed how far he has come as a prospect during camp, and his performance throughout the 3-on-3 tournament put his skills on display for a large crowd of fans.
“I was just trying to have as much fun as I can,” Grigorenko said. “I just really wanted to win the tournament, and I was just going to try to get the puck and just go on offense. I thought that worked pretty good.”
Despite losing in the championship matchup, Fasching was encouraged by how much he learned in the camp’s competitive setting.
“I think it was really a competitive day – competitive and intense and I think it was a lot of fun out there,” he said. “We were battling out there and it was just a lot of fun.”
Although his Team Teal lost to Team Gold in the semifinal round, Rasmus Ristolainen’s play stood out in particular. After dishing out hits on Nikita Zadorov and Colin Jacobs, Ristolainen turned around and scored the final goal in what would be a 3-2 loss.
“I was kind of pissed off that we were losing so we got a couple good goals there, but it wasn’t enough,” Ristolainen said. “Every time when I’m playing, it’s serious. I try to get the puck, I try to compete and I try to hit everything.”
Fasching, who was bloodied after a hit from the Finnish defenseman, marveled at how the size of the prospects at camp raised the level of competition.
“There’s not a lot of guys like that out there,” Fasching said referring to Ristolainen. “It’s definitely given me a different perspective and I think it makes you better as you’re playing against really good players.”
After winning the final matchup, Grigorenko, Pysyk, Justin Kea, Drake Caggiula, and Liam Pecararo hoisted the French Connection Trophy, which was introduced this year and will be awarded to the annual winner of the tournament.