For the prospects its been a whirlwind week. Its been a crash course of what professional hockey is all about. They’ve been tested in a variety of ways. From enduring a combine-like workout to find out where they are at as athletes, to more subtle tests to find out how they work as a team with a former Army Ranger J.B. Spisso as well as in team-oriented paintball teams. It may seem silly, but its a fun way to see how players handle pressure and how well they work together to solve problems. They have also gone through a course in nutrition so they know how a good diet can help improve their performance as well as speed up the body’s own repair and recovery time. These young players are also put through their paces with media training and with Twitter, Facebook especially its important to understand how comments made online are available to anyone. If any of these young players doubt that they can ask Justin Fontaine just how ‘public’ those comments made on Twitter can be. They also practice participating in interviews as well. Most of all, as athletes you want to be your best and you want to be a part of the winning team. Athletes are competitors and you want to hold bragging rights over your peers.
At the first scrimmage; 6,500 Wild fans stormed into Xcel Energy Center to get a glimpse of the future. They were treated to a come from behind 5-4 shootout victory by Team White. Tyler Graovac, a 7th Round pick (191st Overall) in 2011 led the way by scoring twice to give his team a chance to win in the a shootout, while development camp invitee Colorado College goaltender Joe Howe came up big in relief of Matt Hackett by not allowing a goal in regulation. There is one last chance to show the fans, team brass and coaches just what they can do and it is the scrimmage on Sunday. So what team will earn the ultimate bragging rights?
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Same line, different player as Joel Broda led the way for Team White
In front of 7,500 spectators they were treated to another wonderful game. It took less than a minute for the scoring to get started as Jonas Brodin tripped up Mikael Granlund as Team Green tried to enter the Team White zone. As was the case in the first scrimmage, penalties result in a penalty shot so it was Mikael Granlund facing Team White goalie Joe Howe. Granlund took a direct approach where he moved the puck a bit before sliding a puck by Howe, 5-hole to give Team Green a 1-0 lead. Team Green tried to assert itself early and Zack Phillips showed off his ability to dangle around defenders as he was denied by Howe on a point-blank-range chance. Team White tried to counter attack with its top line of Johan Larsson, Charlie Coyle and Raphael Bussieres, but they struggled to direct any shots on goal where Stephen Michalek was holding the fort for Team Green. As Team White tried to answer back, Team Green’s Matt Dumba was looking for players to prey upon with some big open ice hits. His first victim was Christoph Bertschy who got stood up by the Calgary-native but he wasn’t done there. Later in the period Dumba would deliver a big open ice check that leveled Kris Foucault. Team White would even the score on a penalty shot of its own as Joel Broda got slashed in Team Green zone. Broda would take a nice controlled approach towards the Team Green goal before firing a wrist shot 5-hole on Michalek to make it 1-1. Team White, energized by Broda’s tally would add another just a few minutes later as Coyle slapped a shot toward the goal that was stopped by Michalek but a crashing Larsson was there to tap it home to make it 2-1. Larsson’s goal seemed to give Team White a quiet calm to their game and they started to dominate more of the play, and their defenseman did a nice job of holding the offensive zone which kept Team Green bottled up into its own end of the ice. Team White’s pressure would also yield another goal as Ryan Van Stralen battled for a puck down along the right dasher, where Eagan’s Will Merchant swept in, gathered up the puck and then rifled a laser of a wrist shot that found the twine behind Michalek to make it 3-1. It was a wicked shot, and Team White seemed to really be in control. Team Green would answer back with a goal of their own a minute or two later when Mikael Granlund picked up a rebound and fired it by a sprawling Howe to cut the Team White lead to one, 3-2 and that’s how the 1st half would end.
As was the case in the last scrimmage, both teams would swap out their goaltenders as Matt Hackett replaced Howe for Team White and Michalek was replaced by Johan Gustafsson for Team Green. Team White seemed poised to try to stay in control of the game as their 2nd line of Bertschy, Foucault and Broda started to dominate the play. Team White’s 3rd line of Brett Olson, Tyler Graovac, Joel Broda also were a key part of the puck possession game and it was Graovac making a nice move to step around a Wild defender to set up a chance for Broda who buried it behind Gustafsson to make it 4-2. Team Green tried to claw its way back into it, but Jonas Brodin and Steven Kampfer were having none of it. They moved the puck quickly out of the zone and this really helped keep Team Green at bey. That is not to say that Team Green didn’t have its chances; as Phillips was again the source of a few terrific opportunities from in close but Matt Hackett was there to shut the door. Team Green would have a dash of hope when Johan Larsson was tagged with a penalty for tripping up Daniel Gunnarsson. Larsson was not happy and fired the puck at the boards in anger. Gunnarsson would pick up the puck at center ice and move in and beat Hackett who looked pretty half-hearted in the effort making it a one-goal game, at 4-3. Team White tried to extend their lead back to two when Bertschy found Kris Foucault with a long pass and the former member of the Hitmen turned on the jets to fly into the Team Green zone only to be stonewalled by Gustafsson. Yet there would be no late-scrimmage heroics for Team Green as Team White did a great job of playing keep away, and chipping the puck off the boards and glass to get it out of danger and they would prevail in regulation.
Kyle Medvec gets the last laugh for Team White
However, as we know there is always a shootout so there was still a chance for Team Green to take the game back. The shootout was disappointing. It was tough to even say that was the result of great goaltending as it was botched attempts that resulted in this bizarre stalemate. Sure there were a few posts here and there but there were many chances that didn’t even require a save to be made. Team Green did finally strike a few times to tie the shootout at 5-5, but it was Apple Valley’s Kyle Medvec channeling his inner Brian Rolston when he skated in and blasted a slap shot by Gustafsson that turned out to be the coup de grace for Team Green. Team White sweeps the scrimmages with a 6-5 win. You can watch the highlights here.
Scrimmage #2 Three Stars of the Game
1st Star ~ #73 Joel Broda (Team White) – The Development Camp veteran really led the way for Team White, and was a presence all over the ice. His assertiveness in the offensive zone really paved the way for a Team White victory.
2nd Star ~ #40 Jonas Brodin (Team White) – The defensman may not have scored any goals, but he was dominant out there for Team White. He did an excellent job of shutting down Team Green forwards and wasting little time moving the puck along to start the rush.
3rd Star ~ #64 Mikael Granlund (Team Green) – The premier player at prospect camp didn’t disappoint by burying two goals for Team Green. While I thought his presence with the puck was a bit more muted in this game than he was on Thursday he still goes to show you he doesn’t have to have the puck a lot in order to make a significant impact.
Honorable Mention ~ #55 Matt Dumba (Team Green) – Dumba fanned on a big slap shot late for Team Green in the closing seconds of the game, but he gave fans a taste of his penchant for catching guys with big open ice hits with two solid open ice checks and a number of other smaller hits proving he is pretty physical for being just 6’0″ tall.
Team Green Summary: I thought Team Green had an excellent performance from Zack Phillips who I felt looked poised and showed some deft hands in tight spaces. Granlund played well, but I was expecting him to stand out a bit more than he did. Jason Zucker also was far less noticeable in this scrimmage than he was on Thursday where he was imposing his will with his speed. Brett Bulmer was dishing out hits, and hopefully he wasn’t too injured by that stick he took to the face. I thought Justin Fontaine asserted himself more and did a nice job of setting up teammates as well as finding open spaces on the ice for him to operate. Johan Gustafsson again looked very poised in his crease and I hope Darcy Kuemper was watching him closely because he has some serious competition in this kid. Dumba looked more comfortable out there today; stepping up into the play to deliver some nice hits. I thought Daniel Gunnarsson’s game looks intriguing but he needs to play his angles a little better so he doesn’t get caught flat footed as he did early in the scrimmage by the speedy Kyle Thomas.
Team White Summary: I thought Team White had a number of solid performances. Most notably from Jonas Brodin who I felt really had a tremendous showing as he used his stick effectively to break up the attack and then being very efficient moving the puck out of danger and starting the counter attack. Charlie Coyle at times demonstrated some of his power forward game, and I thought Raphael Bussieres was all over the Team Green offensive zone and always seemed to be either with or near the puck. Larsson continues to impress too; his compete level and I really love the way he keeps its simple and enters the zone and then looks to make a play instead of making a mistake common in young players where they attempt one last move before crossing the blueline. I just wished he would’ve been a bit more greedy and took his chance to shoot it more often. Joe Howe again played pretty well for Team White, keeping them in the game as Team Green was pouring it on early. Tyler Graovac was ok, but not quite as noticeable as he was on Thursday. Kyle Thomas had a much better game, using his terrific speed to greater effect, but still was not quite at the level he was last summer. Hackett was vastly improved from Thursday where he looked pretty rusty and porous.
Scrimmage Notes: A.J. Michaelson, Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma, Sean Lorenz, Mackenzie Skapski, and Darcy Kuemper did not play in the scrimmage.
Cue Semisonic‘s “Closing Time” as the prospects, camp invitees now leave camp for their homes as they finish of their summer. Some will be invited back to play for the Wild for the annual prospect tournament in Traverse City in mid-September but it is likely an experience many of them will not forget. New friendships have been made and some of these guys will see each other again next summer. The future looks bright for the Wild and I doubt I’m alone in feeling Minnesota’s chances look pretty good for that prospect tournament.