Blues Lose Tight Game to the Blue Jackets in Traverse City

The second day of the Traverse City Prospect Tournament is in the books, and it was another day full of exciting action. The St. Louis Blues looked much better against the Columbus Blue Jackets than they looked against Carolina; however, a late surge by the Blue Jackets spurred on by a pair of late penalty calls resulted in a 5-3 defeat for the Blues.

Blues Struggle Early

As with Friday’s game, the Blues struggled in the early going and were down 1-0 after just two minutes. Jordan Sambrook, who was a non-roster invitee of the Blue Jackets, scored the first goal in the second minute, a lead the Jackets would maintain until the final minute of the period. In the second, Sam Vigneault, who captained the Blue Jackets’ squad, and Kevin Stenlund, a Swedish forward, scored to give the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead going into the second intermission.

The Blues continued to struggle on the power play Saturday, scoring only once in six opportunities, including one 5-on-3 opportunity. These struggles matched the inefficiency of the club these prospects represented, as the NHL Blues ranked 30th in power-play percentage last season.

Erik Foley Injured

The one power play goal the Blues did score came off the stick of Erik Foley, the power forward the Blues acquired in the deal that sent Paul Stastny to Winnipeg at last season’s trade deadline. Foley’s goal came in the final minute of the first period to tie the game at one, and it was unassisted.

Erik Foley with Providence College
Providence College forward Erik Foley. Photo: Providence College Athletics

The joy for Foley was short-lived, though. Midway through the second period, Foley slid hard into the boards behind the Blues’ net. Play stopped, as he stayed down on the ice for some time. Foley was able to skate off under his own power, but he clutched his face in pain as he did so, and did not return to the game. No news was yet available as of Saturday night as to the extent of Foley’s injury, but hopefully it’s a minor one for the player, who was expected to play in the AHL and possibly even push for NHL minutes this season.

Sean Allen with a Big Scrap

Fans of fisticuffs were treated to a rarity in today’s game: a fight. Two giants squared off as Blues’ defenseman Sean Allen, 6-foot-3, and Blue Jackets’ defenseman Ryan Collins, 6-foot-5, stood each other down five minutes into the third period in a 30-second dust off. In the end, it was Collins whose back was on the ice, after a final right haymaker from Allen.

Allen’s fight seemed to inspire the Blues, who scored the next two goals. Tanner Kaspick, who has looked impressive all tournament, scored the first, off a slick backdoor feed by Blues’ defenseman and alternate captain Niko Mikkola. The second third period goal was a beautiful connection between Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, the Blues’ top two prospects. That kind of high quality goal from those high quality prospects should excite Blues fans about the future.

Joel Hofer Impresses

Saturday was also the first start of the tournament for goalie Joel Hofer, and the first opportunity many fans had to see the 2018 fourth-round pick in net. Hofer’s size stands out: he’s 6-foot-3, and, at just 18 years old, he already fills a net. What impressed spectators in Traverse City wasn’t his size, but his poise in goal.

Joel Hofer of the Swift Current Broncos
Joel Hofer of the Swift Current Broncos (courtesy Swift Current Broncos)

Yes, Hofer allowed four goals (the Blue Jackets’ fifth goal was scored on an empty net) but that does not do justice to his performance. None of the goals he allowed were howlers – in fact, several of them were the immediate result of defensive mistakes that Hofer could not have hoped to save. He did make several good saves, and always seemed to be strong on the puck and confident in handling it. Hofer is incredibly young, and goalies take longer to develop, so it will be several years before we even know whether he has an NHL future, but he made a strong showing in his first taste of NHL-level action.

Two Days Left in Traverse City

All eight teams in Traverse City will have an off day on Sunday. Practices are set for Sunday morning and afternoon; however, no games will be played. The Blues will return to action Monday evening, facing off against their arch rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is at 6:30 P.M. CT at West Rink, the larger of the two venues in the Centre Ice facility. The surprising Blue Jackets, who are now 2-0 in the tournament despite boasting arguably the weakest farm system of all the teams in attendance, will take on the Carolina Hurricanes and top prospect Andrei Svechnikov at 6:00 P.M. on Monday.

With two losses already, the Blues are firmly out of contention for the Tournament’s prize, the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup; however, a win on Monday would not only give them a rivalry victory but would also take the Blackhawks out of the running for the same prize. If Chicago beats St. Louis and Carolina tops Columbus, the Blackhawks will advance to the final, but if Chicago loses, the winner of the Carolina/Columbus game will be the finalist from the Gordie Howe division. All eight teams will play in placement games on Tuesday, with the Championship Game beginning at 6:00 P.M.

The Hockey Writers will continue to have coverage through the end of the tournament. Be sure to check back Monday and Tuesday for more from Traverse City.