The London Knights returned to work Friday after a five-week layoff, but they will have to wait another day to score after opening the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup with a 1-0 shutout loss to the Val-d’Or Foreurs. Anthony Mantha (DET) potted the game’s only goal, while Antoine Bibeau (TOR) was the star of the night stopping all 51 shots sent his way, including a third-period penalty shot, to backstop the Foreurs to victory.
Buffalo Sabres prospects Nikita Zadorov (2013, first round) and Brady Austin (2012, seventh round) formed the Knights’ top defensive pair with the mission of using their size and reach to shut down the potent Val-d’Or duo of Mantha and Louick Turcotte, who combined for 135 goals through the regular season and playoffs.
Zadorov finished the night with an even rating, displaying his physical, defensive style and clogging shooting lanes while manning minutes on the top power play and penalty killing units. The big Russian added his share of shots on goal, including a 200-foot clearing attempt in the first period that nearly caught Bibeau sleeping. Austin, who was on the ice for the goal against, mixed a sound positional game with a few hits and flashes of two-way mobility in his first action since Mar. 27.
A consistent threat throughout, Mantha provided all the goal support Bibeau would need at 16:20 of the opening period, using his lengthy 6-foot-5 frame to drive the net past a reaching Austin and slip a forehand over a sprawling Anthony Stolarz (PHI). Mantha’s marker continued an impressive goal-per-game pace that saw him strike 57 times in 57 regular season contests en route to capturing the Michel Brière Memorial Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player. He added another 24 goals in 24 playoff contests to guide the Foreurs to their first Memorial Cup appearance since 2001.
The teams would trade five-on-three power play chances in the middle frame, but both goaltenders remained sharp to keep it a 1-0 game at the second intermission. The edge proved promising for Val-d’Or after posting a 50-2 mark this season when leading after 40 minutes.
The up-tempo pace carried into the third period, and London received their best chance to tie the game at 6:07 when Bo Horvat (VAN) was awarded a penalty shot. The 2013 first-rounder glided in slowly and juked to his forehand, but Bibeau held his ground and calmly stuck out the blocker for one of several big saves.
Bibeau’s huge performance earned him the game’s number one star. Mantha claimed the number two star, while London forward Josh Anderson was awarded third star honors. Stolarz finished the night with 27 saves in defeat.
The host Knights, who had been idle since being knocked out of the OHL playoffs in the second round on Apr. 11, will look to even their round-robin record on Sunday when they square off with the Edmonton Oil Kings (7 p.m.).
Val-d’Or returns to action Monday (7 p.m.) for a date with the OHL champion Guelph Storm.
In USHL action, Cal Petersen stopped 20 of 23 shots as Waterloo dropped a 4-1 decision at Indiana in Game Three of the Clark Cup Championship. The Black Hawks trail the Ice 2-1 in the best-of-five series with the teams staying in Indianapolis for Saturday’s Game Four. The loss moves Petersen to 7-3 in postseason play with a 2.34 GAA and .926 save%.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.