Despite Loss, Rookies Impress Leafs Brass
Wednesday, 09.14.2011 / 12:07 AM ET / News
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By Clayton Hansler
The Maple Leafs rookie team may have lost their final game of the three contest round robin, but nothing but smiles could be seen on the faces of the players as they departed for the bus.
After coming from behind twice against Ottawa on Tuesday to eventually fall in overtime 4-3, all the members of the Leafs squad - which includes seven invited on an amateur tryout contract - were informed they will be joining the rest of the Maple Leafs at main camp starting later in the week.
"We kept playing well, we played as a group, we liked the way they competed and in the end my bosses decided to bring every guy here," said the Maple Leafs head coach for the duration of the tournament, Dallas Eakins.
"We asked them to compete and support each other, and they certainly did that. After Ottawa scored that second goal I felt like we were falling away in the game and the kids really dug their heels in and competed hard."
Stephane Da Costa opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the tournament when he put a loose puck on net that was left vacant at the bottom of the short-side circle. The puck soared over the blocker of Mark Owuya giving the Senators a lead they would hold for the remainder of the period.
As has marked most of the Maple Leafs round robin, an extended shoving match between Garrett Clarke and Corey Cowick in the corner turned into a full fledged bout at centre ice.
Ottawa would extend their lead to two in the game's middle frame when a turnover between the Toronto goal would eventually land on the stick of Jakub Culek who lifted it into the Leafs net.
As has been the case all through the tournament, Toronto's spirits remained high as they replied with offensive pressure and physical control. An extended cycle between Matt Frattin, Jake Gardiner and Josh Nicholls produced three scoring opportunities, one from each. Soon after Greg McKegg would break away from his defender below the hash marks and try to duplicate Sunday's backhanded goal, but to no avail.
With 12.9 seconds remaining it would be Matt Frattin to break Robin Lehner's rookie tournament shutout streak that lasted nearly 100 minutes (99:47). Frattin's low shot from the left point evaded Lehner's glove, marking the NCAA graduate's first point of the tournament.
"The last two years I've been playing the point on the blueline in North Dakota. I moved back down there today and I told [Gardiner] I like that one side. I got him to shoot me a perfect pass right on the sweet spot and it was a good screen from Nicholls out in front and the goalie didn't see anything," said Frattin who admitted he played with a lot more confidence Tuesday night against Ottawa.
"I thought tonight he clearly showed some of what he can do, and I still think he has more to give," noted the head coach.
Sondre Olden tied the game for the Leafs shortly after the minute mark of the third period after his shot from the top of the circle went bar-down, beating Lehner.
After another go-ahead goal for Ottawa, this time coming from a seemingly effortless Mika Zibanejad backhand, the Leafs knotted the game at three with less than a minute remaining. McKegg's back-and-forth with Mitchell Heard would result in Erie Otters captain's second goal of the tournament and force overtime.
The extra frame would not last two minutes as Culek beat Owuya for the second time of the evening, securing the victory for the Ottawa club who finished the tournament with a perfect 3-0-0 record.
"It's been nice to see them play against their peers," said Eakins. "But now is when the real fun begins. They're going to be playing against men here in the next few days, and some very big, strong, savvy men. So we will see what they are made of now."
The Maple Leafs training camp opens Friday in Toronto when the fitness of the whole team will be measured. After a few opportunities to practice together, the Leafs preseason schedule will begin Monday, September 19th, at home as they face cross-province rival, Ottawa Senators.
Notes: Frattin was awarded the game's second star … McKegg (2-2) and Heard (1-3) would tie for a team high 4 points at the rookie tournament.