Blues Battle Back, but Can’t Beat Blackhawks

Day 3 is now in the books in Traverse City, as teams battled for their place in the standings heading into Tuesday’s slate of placement games. For the St. Louis Blues, Monday saw their best performance of the tournament, a gritty performance in which they battled back from a 3-0 deficit; however, an overtime rocket off the stick of Dylan Sikura, the Blackhawks’ top offensive prospect, got past Blues’ goalie Evan Fitzpatrick for the game-winning goal.

Blues Early Woes Continue

In each game of this tournament, the Blues have found themselves on the back foot early in the contest. On Monday, an unassisted goal by Graham Knott at the 7:46 mark of the first period gave the Blackhawks the lead. Knott collected a puck that had caromed behind Fitzpatrick and easily buried it in the empty net. Five minutes later, at 12:05, a bevy of players crashed the net in front of Fitzpatrick, and ultimately Nathan Noel emerged with the puck and the game’s second goal. While neither of those goals was scored on the power play, the Blackhawks were given three to the Blues’ zero, which prompted Blues’ alternate captain and top prospect Robert Thomas to stay on the ice at intermission and have a discussion with the referees.

Robert Thomas, London Knights
Robert Thomas in his time as captain of the London Knights (Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Whether prompted by Thomas’ discussion or not, the Blues got a penalty call in their favor just 48 seconds into the second period, but they were unable to score. Shortly after the power play ended, the Blackhawks scored their third goal. Jason Willms, an invite to Blackhawks camp, capitalized on nice assists from Lucas Carlsson and Joni Tuulola to net his team’s third goal. For the second time in the tournament, the Blues trailed 3-0, and the game seemed well in and for their opposition.

Thomas, Kyrou Lead Comeback

The Blues refused to go down quietly to their rival Blackhawks, and battled back from the considerable deficit they found themselves up against. Bobby MacIntyre, a camp invite for the Blues who impressed all game with his speed and instincts, fired off a laser of a shot with an assist from Jake Walman. The power play goal gave the Blues a little hope as they entered the second intermission down 3-1.

In the third period, the Blues’ top two prospects put on a show. First, Thomas positioned himself brilliantly on the blindside of Blackhawks’ netminder Chance Marchand and fired home a hard shot for a goal. Though most known for his playmaking, Thomas showed that he can shoot, too, and brought the Blues within one. Roughly eight minutes later, Jordan Kyrou, who by contrast is known for his shot, capitalized on a ghastly turnover by the Blackhawks and rocketed home the equalizer.

The Blues had battled back from a 3-0 deficit to equalize, and they dominated much of the play for the remainder of the third period. But the Blackhawks would ultimately prevail on a fine finish from Sikura, who could be poised to make a significant impact in the NHL this season. The loss stings for the Blues, especially against a division rival, but the game, overall, was by far their best of the tournament to date.

Fantastic Fitzpatrick

Without question, the star player for the Blues was their goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a bit of a rising star in the Blues’ organization. Last season, he got off to a shaky start with the Sherbrooke Phoenix of the QMJHL, but was traded to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, where he excelled. He posted excellent numbers in the regular season, extraordinary numbers in the QMJHL playoffs (2.10 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 20 games), and led the team all the way through to a Memorial Cup championship.

Evan Fitzpatrick of the Sherbrooke Phoenix
Evan Fitzpatrick (Vincent Levesque-Rousseau/Sherbrooke Phoenix)

Fitzpatrick’s play in Friday’s game in the prospect tournament was up-and-down, but he turned it on in Monday’s clash with Chicago. All told, he turned away 37 of the 41 shots he faced, but none of the goals he allowed were the result of his own mistakes. In fact, for much of the game, Fitzpatrick was the only thing that kept the Blues in striking distance. He made numerous saves on Blackhawks’ breakaways, and had a couple of highlight-reel stops on rebounds as well. Fitzpatrick showed all the skill that made the Blues draft him in the second round in 2016, and he should continue his rise up the franchise ranks very quickly.

Final Placement Matchups

One day remains in the Traverse City tournament, and as with every other day, four games will be played. This time, the games will determine final placement in the tournament standings. The schedule is as follows (all times Eastern):

  • Seventh place game: St. Louis Blues vs. New York Rangers, 3:00 P.M.
  • Fifth place game: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Dallas Stars, 3:30 P.M.
  • Third place game: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild, 6:30 P.M.
  • Championship game: Detroit Red Wings vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:00 P.M.

The championship game will feature the tournament’s host, the Detroit Red Wings, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are the tournament’s only undefeated team, despite boasting arguably the weakest prospect group of the teams represented. No doubt the Blue Jackets will have a hostile crowd to overcome if they hope to win it all and become the first time in the history of the Traverse City Prospect Tournament to claim victory five times.

The 20th installment of the Traverse City Prospect Tournament has been every bit as exciting as ever, and no doubt there will be a lot more entertainment in Tuesday’s matchups. The Hockey Writers will have coverage of the action once again on Tuesday, so be sure to check back for more on the tournament.