Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Maybe it's not our tournament"

Reprinted with permission from

That understated quote from Buffalo Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov pretty much sums it up. It wasn't their tournament at all, in any aspect.

The Buffalo Sabres prospects went 0-3-1 at the Traverse City Tournament and finished in last place. They were outscored 17-6 overall and scored only one goal in three of the four games even though they collectively outshot their opponents by a 134-90 margin. A statistical anomaly had the Sabres scoring their only multi-goal game vs. the Dallas Stars in the only game they were outshot (29-24.)

Numbers are a funny thing as it began in the first game vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres puck possession numbers were strong and they outshout the 'Canes 35-20 yet lost 6-1. Goaltender Andrey Makarov had a real rough outing allowing 6 goals on only 20 shots. Reports from the rink had him letting in a couple of softies, but he was also a victim of a very poor penalty kill.

Carolina set the tone for what would become dreadful special teams play by the Sabres as they scored three out of four times with the man advantage. Throughout the tournament Buffalo's prospects would yield an astounding eight powerplay goals on 19 opportunities for a measly 52% kill-rate. Only the NY Rangers would fail to score on the powerplay as they went 0-4.

Buffalo was inept with the man advantage as well finishing with two goals on 17 powerplays for a 11% conversion rate. They started out the tournament by getting shut out in six opportunities through the first two games.

To say the youngins had a rough go of it is an understatement. Nobody envisioned numbers like this, especially from a scoring standpoint.

The Sabres prospects looked to be a force on paper as they headed into the tournament with 10 first and second round picks. But, as always, the game is played on the ice.

"The thing that probably we didn’t see coming was our inability to score goals,” Sabres tournament coach Chadd Cassidy said after yesterday's game. “When you don’t score, you’re not going to win hockey games."

There were a multitude of reasons for them not scoring. Although they did run into some stout goaltending, especially in the last game, not getting to the dirty areas of the ice was a problem as was too much individuality. And one cannot discount lack of chemistry, even though all the participants were in the same boat there.

Individually there were some players that were noticeable, like defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. The captain played a stout game while logging mega-minutes, especially when Zadorov was benched in Game-3 vs. Dallas.

Ristolainen would finish the tournament with a goal and an assist (both on the powerplay.)

Center Justin Kea, who just signed his entry-level contract last spring, contributed unassumingly. The 2102 third-round pick was rock solid in his role as he notched a goal and an assist as well as a couple of tussles. He lead the team with a plus-2 rating and was one of only three players on the plus side. The others were tourney invitees F, Joseph Blandisi, who also had a goal, and D, Ryan MacKinnon.

Fellow 2012 draft pick Brady Austin got off to a rough start but smoothed his game out. The big, mobile rearguard would get himself a goal on only three shots. Although he should never be confused with Denis Potvin, Austin has a real good shot and will pot one every now and then. He along with Kea are slated for Rochester this season and one can see a future for both as role players for the big club two or three years down the road.

All three were kind of the "older folk" at the tournament and they should be expected to contribute.

As for the "youngins," there were five 2014 draft picks wearing the Blue and Gold this year at Traverse City and of them, RW Vaclav Karabacek (49th overall) jumped out as a nice surprise. The 6'0", 200 lb Czech native would contribute a goal on four shots and end up with an even plus/minus rating whilst on the second line.

Karabacek showed plenty of feistiness and was the only player on his line of 2014 second-rounders to remain exclusively in that role. LW, Brendan Lemieux (31st) was demoted to the fourth line after the first game for channeling too much Patrick Kaleta, while C, Eric Cornel (44th) ended up shifting to the wing later in the tournament. Most notable, though, was how Karabacek scored his goal. After a nice, no-look pass from Cornel to the slot, he blasted a one-timer into a gaping net with authority, which is the mark of a goal scorer.

All eyes, though, were on the second-overall pick in the 2014 Draft, Sam Reinhart.

From all accounts, Reinhart was everything they said he'd be. He played an intelligent game, knew where every player was on the ice, he had great presence and he displayed his deft passing ability on numerous occasions.

But he didn't hit the scoresheet.

Although Reinhart is credited with a secondary assist on Ristolainen's goal, WGR's Paul Hamilton, wrote that Joel Armia should have been credited with the assist, not Reinhart.

Regardless of the quibbling as to who gets credit for the point, Reinhart did not help the Sabres cause offensively. He only had six shots on goal the entire tournament which is totally unacceptable for a player of his capabilities. Reinhart has been a leader throughout his hockey career thusfar and he needed to show leadership at this tournament by working to put the puck in the net. Dishing the puck that much, no matter how beautifully, is taking the easy road. The team needed someone to step up, not set up.

For Reinhart as well as all the other youngins, the 2014 Traverse City tournament was a huge slice of humble pie, which is good. They will hit training camp tomorrow with a laundry list of things to work on and won't be as full of themselves as they seemed to be heading into this tourney.

Like Zadorov said, maybe it wasn't their tournament, but for some it was the beginning of their quest to make it to the NHL while for others it was another step towards that goal. And maybe for some, it's a meaningless tournament. But for those in the organization, it did have meaning. And for these kids who don't know yet what it means to be a professional playing against men it should've been a rude awakening.

Special thanks to the Sabres for their coverage of the tournament, especially Brian Duff and Kris Baker. Also thanks to for the stats

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