By JAMES COOK firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Detroit Red Wings will have achance to have a little more pro-minent presence at Centre ICE.
The Red Wings (3-0) will play Buffalo (3-0) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the NHL Prospect Tournament championship with a chance to put Detroit’s name on the tourney trophy for the first time, as well as get a banner and the team’s name on the newly-added mural of past champions in the arena atrium.
“We talked a little bit about that,” Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou said. “We talked about that they’ve never won it. I like to win; it’s part of my game. When I heard that, I thought, ‘Here’s my chance to show them.’ I win everywhere I go, so I thought this would be a good opportunity.”
And with three goals in his first two games, Athanasiou has certainly been doing his part.
“With the Wings not winning one of these Prospects tournaments yet, it’d be a cool experience,” forward Riley Sheahan said. “All these guys have been working hard in the off-season, so it’d give them something to talk about when they go back to their teams.”
The Red Wings defeated St. Louis 4-1 Sunday night to set up matchup between the tournament’s only two undefeated teams. Detroit goals came from Xavier Ouellet, Zach Nastasiuk, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Mantha (empty net). Jake Paterson stopped 22 Blues shots.
Detroit and Buffalo were the only teams undefeated entering tonight’s final pool-play games.
Dallas’ 2-1 shootout win over Minnesota sealed Detroit earning the top spot in the Gordie Howe Division, while Buffalo’s 7-4 win over Carolina earlier Sunday made the Sabres 3-0 and clinched the Ted Lindsay Division crown.
The Red Wings have never won the Prospects Tournament they have hosted since it started in 1998.
For winning its division, Buffalo gets to keep its large locker room next year. The Sabres are the reigning Prospect Tournament champion from 2011.
The Red Wings will have to figure out how to stop Nicholas Baptiste, who has four goals and seven points in three tourney games.
YOUTUBE COMPETITION: Athanasiou joined Jurco as an Internet sensation after his Pavel Datsyuk-like break-away goal in the Barrie Colts’ Blue/White intersquad game was put on YouTube and soon had almost 100,000 hits.
“I didn’t even know what it was,” Athanasiou said. “I was talking to one of my buddies, and he was like, ‘Nice YouTube video.’ And then I went and saw it. I think it was like 95,000 views.
“It was the Blue and White scrimmage there, so the fans come out there and support us in a small main camp like that. So I tried to impress them and give them a little entertainment.”
But Athanasiou has a way to go to match Jurco, whose YouTube video of trick stickhandling moves went viral before the Red Wings drafted him in the second round last year. Jurco currently has five videos on YouTube that have over 240,000 views, including two with more than 348,000.
“I’ve seen his,” Athanasiou said. “He’s unbelievable. I can’t do what he does. What he does — I don’t even know how he does it. It’s ridiculous.”
CAPTAIN STATUS: Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and defenseman Max Nicastro have been wearing the team’s “A” captain patches during the tournament.
They happen to also be the Wings’ only three American Hockey League veterans as the tournament.
“Max, Jurco and Sheahan, all three of them were with us most of last year,” Grand Rapids Griffin coach Jeff Blashill said of the teams’ run to the Calder Cup. “In Sheahan and Max’s case, they’re older guys. We thought it was a great opportunity for them to be leaders.
“Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco are coming here after spending a year together in Grand Rapids, where they were very good players. They were nice pieces to the puzzle, but they weren’t night in, night out go-to players. I think this is a good chance for them to be the go-to players.”
JUNIOR JUMP: Many of Detroit’s prospects in the tournament are hoping to make the leap from juniors or foreign leagues to the likes of the AHL soon.
Those include Martin Frk, Athanasiou, Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Teemu Pulkkinen, Calle Jarnkrok, Rasmus Bodin and Alexey Marchenko.
Blashill’s thoughts on some of those hoping to make the jump:
• “Jarnkrok, obviously has been a great players in the Swedish league. He’s been in the top eight in scoring for two years in a row. He’s an extremely highly thought-of prospect, not just by the Red Wings, but by lots of organizations. He’s got a great, great mind for the game. The transition part is learning to play the North American game. He got nine games last year, but that’s not very many. And it was nine games at the end of the season, which is hard. ... At some point, he learn to be as effective in North American hockey as he is in the Swedish Elite League.”
• “Pulkkinen, he was with us longer and with is for the (Calder Cup) run and with us for the playoffs. Pulkkinen has great offensive ability. He’ll have to continue to learn the defensive aspects, but the think I like about Pulkkinen is he cares a ton and he wants to be a player and he wants to win. He has a great attitude, and he’ll continue to get better at those things.”
• “Paterson was great. And the reason he was great was that he made all the stops he was supposed to make. He didn’t give any life to the other team.”
• “The one guy to me that is really ready-made that I think his transition is going to be the easiest, is Ouellet. I think he’s somebody who plays a really efficient game, and in pro hockey, you can’t make up for mistakes, so you have to be very efficient. ... He’s somebody who doesn’t make mistakes, yet he can add offense.”
BEING A HIT: Sheahan
“I was just trying to focus on playing my game and being more physical,” Sheahan said. “In the locker room, trying to get the guys talking a bit and getting them to feel more comfortable on the bench. Out there, if they’re playing with lots of things going through their head, they’re going to make mistakes. And the guys did an awesome job. For the first game, I think we did awesome.”
“It’s something that as a coach, we didn’t emphasize enough to him early,” Blashill said. “Throughout the season, we started to talk lots more about it and in the playoffs. Riley is a very good defensive player, he’s got very good offensive ability. But if you can be physical, you can have an impact every single night, whether you are scoring or not. And I also think when you get into a playoff series, you can wear on other teams.”
“It was my first game experience since we won the Calder Cup,” Sheahan said. “It was good to get back at it.”
ICE CHIPS: Athanasiou on his incredibly thin-palmed hockey gloves: “My palm is really thin there, so you get a really good feel on the stick,” Athanasiou said. “If I could, I’d probably take off all the palm and play with the bare hand. It definitely gives you a better feel.” ... Paterson is liking the lack of confusion about his name this time around. Earlier this summer, the Wings had the Saginaw Spirit netminder in development camp, as well as another goalie named Jake Patterson. “It’s nice,” Paterson said. “A lot less questions about the two Jakes this time around.”