TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. – The Buffalo Sabres prospects may have fallen short of their goal of repeating as champions of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich, but they still found much value in competing in the tournament both on and off the ice.
Buffalo lost 4-2 to the prospects of the Detroit Red Wings organization Monday night in the title game at Ice Centre Arena before a large contingent of Red Wings fans.
Detroit left wing Anthony Mantha netted two power play goals to open the scoring. Zach Nastasiuk scored the eventual game-winner midway through the third period and Tomas Jurco put in an empty netter to seal the deal with 25.8 seconds to play.
Frederick Roy and Peter Trainor scored for Buffalo, capping off a tournament in which the Sabres finished 3-1-0 with eight points (each regulation win is worth three points). They won their division, providing them the opportunity to play the Red Wings in the championship game of the eight-team tournament.
“I told them after the game, I thought they showed really well for our organization,” coach Chadd Cassidy said. “With what direction we’re trying to go in, they should be really proud of the way they played and [Sabres coach Ron Rolston] will be proud of them as well.”
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen kept the Sabres prospects in the game, especially early on. Lieuwen finished with 36 saves. Buffalo was outshot 13-4 in the first period and 40-25 overall. Lieuwen, a sixth-round pick of the Sabres in 2011 (167th overall), was the winning goaltender when Buffalo brought home the title in 2011, the last time the tournament was played.
“Obviously we wanted to come back and defend and we almost did,” Lieuwen said. “I thought overall, we played a pretty good hockey game, but you have to give it to the Red Wings. They are a heck of a team and they have some real skilled forwards up front.”
The Sabres’ struggles on the penalty kill in the tournament continued in the game against Detroit. Buffalo was able to stay out of the box for almost the entire first period, but with 2:15 remaining, forward Zemgus Girgensons was called for interference and the Red Wings converted on the opportunity. Mantha scored five hole on Lieuwen to open the scoring.
Then with 1:01 left in the first, Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov was sent to the box for high sticking. Mantha capitalized again 29 seconds into the second period to make it 2-0.
Buffalo opened the third period strong, with a goal on the rush by Roy 3:22 in.
“Obviously scoring a goal got us back into it and it gave us some energy, but I just felt we were kind of a step behind all night tonight,” Cassidy said. “We never established the forecheck pressure that we were able to early in the tournament. That was kind of our bread and butter.”
The Buffalo momentum swing didn’t last too long as Nastasiuk scored with 9:59 to play. Buffalo’s Trainor cut the lead back down with 6:40 remaining, but Jurco’s empty netter in the final 30 seconds ended any hopes of a rally.
“I think we had a great tournament of course, but today, we didn’t play the way we should. We had a good run,” Sabres defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc said. “…[We] played very well [throughout the tournament] and I’m very proud.”
There were many bumps and bruises along the way. Players could be seen in the locker room after the game wearing ice packs and nursing some minor contusions. Gauthier-Leduc had his face cut by his own visor and then by a teammate’s stick in consecutive games.
Those minor scrapes don’t include injuries to players like defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who missed the final two games of the tournament with an upper-body injury. Cassidy had listed him as day-to-day.
But games with playoff-style intensity are welcome at the start of the season for the players to get their feet wet again.
“It’s nice to be back. That’s what you want, to be there fighting, in one-on-one battles, get here as soon as you can and be ready for the next step,” Sabres captain Johan Larsson said.
That next step is Sabres training camp, which opens on Wednesday at First Niagara Center.
“That’s a sign of a pretty good week is at the end of it if everybody’s got the ice packs out and you can see in their eyes how much they’ve given,” Cassidy said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that everybody in this room gave it everything they had this week. It does kind of have that weight off your shoulders, kind of ‘Wow. What a week it was,’ and then you get a day-and-a-half and you’re right back at it for main camp.”
1-0 Detroit Red Wings - ANTHONY MANTHA (power play) (ALEXEY MARCHENKO, XAVIER OUELLET) 18:42
2-0 Detroit Red Wings - ANTHONY MANTHA (power play) (MARTIN FRK, XAVIER OUELLET) 0:29
2-1 Buffalo Sabres - FREDERICK ROY (ALEX LEPKOWSKI, JEROME GAUTHIER-LEDUC) 3:22
3-1 Detroit Red Wings - ZACH NASTASIUK (ANTHONY MANTHA, TEEMU PULKKINEN) 10:00
3-2 Buffalo Sabres - PETER TRAINOR (LOGAN NELSON, COLIN JACOBS) 12:47
4-2 Detroit Red Wings - TOMAS JURCO (empty net) (unassisted) 19:34
Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Joel Armia
Eric Locke – Daniel Catenacci – Nicholas Baptiste
Peter Trainor – Colin Jacobs – Logan Nelson
Frederick Roy – Justin Kea – Justin Bailey
Brady Austin – Jerome Gauthier-LeducNathan LieuwenConnor KnappDETROIT
Nikita Zadorov – Rasmus Ristolainen
Alex Lepkowski – Connor Boland
Tomas Jurco – Riley Sheahan – Teemu Pulkkinen
Anthony Mantha – Calle Jarnkrok – Martin Frk
Marek Tvrdon – Andreas Athanasiou – Barclay Goodrow
Tyler Bertuzzi –Zach Nastasiuk – Philippe Hudon
Xavier Ouellet – Ryan Sproul
Richard Nedomlel – Max Nicastro
Marc McNulty – Alexey Marchenko