By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Andreas Athanasiou made a big statement about his National Hockey League prospects.
It is the NHL Prospect Tournament after all.
In the Detroit Red Wings’ 3-1 win Thursday at Centre ICE over the Minnesota Wild, Athanasiou scored two goals. That was obvious.
What was less obvious were all the other things he did during the victory — elevating his game from the last time he was here in Traverse City at the team’s Skill Development Camp in July.
“He got the game puck for being the best player,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “And it wasn’t for the two goals — though they were good and he had opportunities to score more. I thought he did everything right. He was great defensively. We talked coming out of development camp that if he wants to be a center, he has to be better defensively — and I thought he was (Thursday). He checked really well and did all the things it takes to be a really complete player. I was impressed with him.”
Athanasiou put Detroit up late in the first period of the team’s tourney opener.
His wrist shot caught goalie Johan Gustafsson by surprise, and Gustafsson didn’t appear to know the puck was in the net until the referee pointed at it.
“They made a nice pass out wide to me, and I just cut in,” Athanasiou said. “I was going to bring it in across the net, and for a quick second I saw short side and kind of just chipped it up there. I was just lucky enough to get it up in that spot.”
Max Nicastro and Zach Nastasiuk drew the assists.
The first period was also highlighted by a pair of fights.
Tyler Bertuzzi and Carter Sandlak faced off 6:41 into the game, and Richard Nedomlel and Kurtis Gabriel exchanged punches in the final minute. Neither was decisive.
Less than three minutes into the second, Athanasiou struck again, this time off a Xavier Oulette pass from the point.
“Xavier made a nice slap pass to me at the back of the net,” Athanasiou said. “I made a little eye contact in the corner and he saw me and saw I was alone, so he took a hard clapper on the ice and I was able to stop it and go around the goalie.”
Riley Sheahan would add a backhanded goal in the third period to give Detroit and goalie Jake Paterson a three-goal cushion in the third period’s first minute.
“It was good work by (Teemu) Pulkkinen and (Tomas) Jurco down low,” Sheahan said. “They did a good job finishing their checks and the puck squirted out to me and I saw I had the defenseman standing still and I made a hard move at the net. Luckily, it squeaked under the goalie’s arm.”
His line of Jurco and Pulkkinen played well for long stretches of the second and third periods.
“I love playing with (Jurco),” Sheahan said. “We played together almost a whole year, so we have good chemistry. And Pulkkinen, too. He’s got a rocket of a shot and is really strong. I think the mixture of us three, we can possess the puck down low and get some good opportunities.
“The first was a little iffy with turnovers. Coach Blash came in and told us to be more conscious of that. And for the second and third, we were awesome and did a lot of work down low. For the first game, we had a lot of legs and it was good to see the guys pushing.”
Minnesota would spoil Paterson’s shutout bid with 2:01 remaining on Tyler Graovac’s one-timer goal.
“I was pretty happy with how the team played,” Paterson said. “They made it pretty easy for me. They made sure most of the shots were from the outside. And I did my best to control my rebounds and keep the rebounds in front of the net.”
Paterson, who finished with 20 saves, is also slated to start the Wings’ game on Sunday.
“The coaches told us before the game that it was probably the highest level of competition we’ve faced yet,” Paterson said. “It was a good pace, and obviously we’re pretty happy with how things turned out.”
Detroit plays Dallas tonight in what might best the tournament’s best matchup.
Dallas’ Curtis McKenzie scored a hat trick in a 5-2 win over St. Louis.
“To be honest, I’ve spent all our time on us,” Blashill said. “What I did hear today from our scouting department and the Red Wings staff was they thought Dallas might be the best team here. We’ll focus on us and see where we stack up.”
In other games, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 and Buffalo handled Columbus 3-2.
Daniel Altshuller made 36 saves to collect the win for the Blue Jackets. Two of the three goals he surrendered came on the power play.
Nathan Lieuwen stopped 26 shots to earn the Sabres’ victory as both team combined to go 0 for 5 on the power play.