The host London Knights continued round-robin play at the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup on Sunday with a 5-2 loss to the WHL Champion Edmonton Oil Kings. Draft-eligible forward Edgars Kulda scored twice and added an assist to pace the winners, while Luke Bertolucci added two goals of his own. Tristan Jarry (PIT) stopped 38 of 40 shots to get the victory.
The Knights have now lost both of their games of the tournament, putting them in a must-win situation heading into Wednesday’s preliminary finale versus Guelph.
Buffalo Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov (2013, first round) was his usual physical self with several crunching hits. The big defender made his presence known early and often in the opening period, stepping up at the London blueline to make solid contact with Oil Kings forward Mads Eller on his second shift of the game, and later connecting on Eller again in the final minute with a classic hip check along the boards just inside the Knights’ zone. Zadorov moved the puck well out of his end, but was less active as a shooter. Zadorov finished the night with no points, an even rating and a minor penalty for boarding in the third period.
Zadorov’s defensive partner, fellow Sabres prospect Brady Austin (2012, seventh round), logged a minus-two rating while seeing time on the second power play unit. Austin nearly scored the first Knights’ goal in the second period when he joined the rush down the center lane and just missed getting his stick on a saucer pass at the edge of the crease. The Knights are going to need their top pair to be on their games Wednesday when they face the tall task of stifling the CHL’s most potent offense.
Edmonton would get on the board first at 10:19 of the opening period when Reid Petryk buried a one-timer from between the circles over the shoulder of London goaltender Anthony Stolarz (PHI).
The Knights earned their second penalty shot attempt in as many games with 3:46 remaining in the period when Ryan Rupert was interfered with on a clean break from the Edmonton blueline. Rupert came in with speed and deked to his forehand, but Jarry squeezed the pads to keep it a 1-0 Oil Kings lead.
Kulda, an undrafted 19-year-old winger from Latvia (ranked 145th by NHL Central Scouting), gave the Oil Kings a 2-0 lead at 6:05 of the middle frame when he took a pass down the right wing, entered the zone and cut to the middle of the ice, where he unloaded a wrist shot that beat Stolarz short-side over the blocker.
The Knights finally scored their first goal of the tourney at 16:12 as Alex Basso took a Chris Tierney (SJS) feed at the left faceoff circle and rifled a slap shot that ricocheted off Jarry’s glove and into the back of the net. The marker ended the Knights stretch of 119:55 without a goal going back to the Ontario Hockey League playoffs that ended 37 days ago for London.
The Oil Kings answered back just under two minutes later as Kulda parked in front of the net and converted in his own rebound to restore the two-goal lead. A 30-goal, 60-point producer in the regular season, the 19-year old Kulda was effective in all three zones of the ice with scouts from all 30 teams looking on.
London coach Dale Hunter switched goalies to begin the third period, replacing Stolarz with Jake Patterson, but Edmonton continued to push the pace. Following a missed pinch by Zadorov, Luke Bertolucci streaked down the left side and beat Patterson with a wrist shot at 5:54 to make it a 4-1 game.
The Knights started to play with a sense of urgency midway through the period, and the effort paid off as draft-eligible defenseman Dakota Mermis gobbled up a Max Domi (PHX) rebound to halve the Oil Kings lead at 4-2.
The Knights would keep battling, but Edmonton kept the pedal to the metal to the very end with Bertolucci getting his second of the night with 1:37 left to put the game out of reach.
The game was a rematch between two clubs that battled at the 2012 tournament in Quebec. The Knights won that one by a 4-1 score to advance to the championship game before falling to the host Shawinigan Cataractes.
The Oil Kings, who improved to 1-1 in round robin play, get a day off before taking on Val-d’Or on Tuesday (7 p.m., NHL Network).
In USHL action on Saturday, Cal Petersen made 36 saves as Waterloo defeated Indiana 7-2 to force a fifth and final game of the Clark Cup Championship series. The Black Hawks will have home ice advantage for Tuesday’s deciding battle. Petersen, who is committed to Notre Dame in the fall, is 8-3 in postseason play with a 2.31 GAA and .928 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.