Idaho Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal came into the NHL Prospects Tournament with a plan.
He wanted the Stars to have an identity.
After a two-hour practice last Friday, the players understood just what was expected.
"Lax came in right off of the bat and gave us our identity -- discipline, team work and hard work," said defenseman Trevor Ludwig. "We were not going to get outworked. I think we really grabbed onto that, and that’s how we played."
The Stars defeated the Atlanta Thrashers prospects, 8-3, Wednesday in the championship game and walked away with a 4-0-0 record and 20 goals scored. James Neal (9 points) led the tournament in point scoring, and Jamie Benn
(5 goals) led the tournament in goal scoring.
|James Neal |
"We’ve got a good group of young guys, and we clicked pretty good," said Benn. "I think that was a big key for us. We knew that if we’d have team success, we’d have individual success, so we concentrated on the team, and that paid off for us."
Dallas has been concentrating on skilled forwards in recent drafts, and that philosophy paid off, as the Stars attacked teams with a great rotation of four lines. Laxdal juggled his lines on Wednesday, putting James Neal with Colton Sceviour
and Tyler Shelast. The combination clicked for three goals and the three forwards ended up in the top six in scoring in the tournament. Neal had four goals and five assists for nine points and edged out St. Louis’ rookie of the year candidate Patrik Berglund, who also had a goal and an assists Wednesday. Shelast had two goals and an assist against the Thrashers and finished the tournament with two goals and four assists. Sceviour had two assists Wednesday and finished with two goals and three assists for the tournament.
Stars co-general manager Les Jackson said the team adopted an aggressive offensive attitude during the tournament.
"We were trying to push it, for sure," Jackson said. "I think we had the talent and the skill, and those were the strengths of our team, so we wanted to play to our strengths."
Dallas trailed by two goals in its first three games in the tournament, but then rallied back to win all three. On Wednesday, Dallas scored first and took a 3-1 lead after the first period. Shelast scored on a power play walking down the slot to open things at the 8:06 mark. And after Atlanta tied it on a Zach Bogosian power play goal, the Stars added goals by Ray Sawada on a loose puck in front of the goal and a James Neal one-timer.
Atlanta rallied back in the second period with goals by Angelo Esposito and Danick Paquette, but then the Stars broke things open.
Ivan Vishnevskiy made a great save to keep the puck in the offensive zone at the blue line and then skated down the left wall before sending a puck through the crease to Benn, who swatted it in from close range. Sergei Korostin then found himself open in front of the net when a deflected puck bounced right to his stick.
"We had come out sluggish in the first three games, but tonight we came out strong and actually took the lead," Ludwig said. "Then, after they tied it, I think we just got aggressive again. The second and third period have been our best periods all week, and just kind of shut them down."
|Tournament director Pete Correia presents the championship plaque to Raymond Sawada #12 of the Dallas Stars after winning the 2008 NHL Prospects Tournament against the Atlanta Thrashers 8-3 in Traverse City, Michigan. |
Dallas showed no signs of weakness in the third period as Fabian Brunnstrom cleaned up a rebound on a Vishnevskiy shot, Shelast made a nice backhand move, and Benn and Neal worked a pretty give-and-go out of the corner.
Neal’s play drew praise from Jackson and the rest of the Stars’ front office.
"Neal was fantastic," Jackson said. "He’s determined to make our team, and he played like that every shift."
And he was just one of many players who played well. Brunnstrom drew praise for his improvement from Game 1 to Game 4. Benn is seen as a player who might be able to quickly make the jump to the NHL next season. Vishnevskiy appears ready to make a successful jump to the AHL level this year.
"The guys in the field have done a good job of identifying talent, because the new game is all geared to puck control and skating," Jackson said. "That’s what we’re looking for, and I think you see that in the players who are out there."
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