One would think that a team scrimmaging with a line of Luke Adam, Tyler Ennis, and Zack Kassian would have a distinct advantage over their opponent, but such wasn't the case Saturday as Team White cruised to a 5-2 win over Team Blue in the first of two weekend shinnies at the Sabres d-camp.
Team White, who iced 11 forwards to Blue's nine, matched the other side's NHL experience with the camp's top netminder, Connor Knapp. A veteran of his fifth d-camp, Nick Eno got the start for Blue. Each team had three defensive pairs.
After a scoreless first period, camp invite Steven Beyers of the Barrie Colts broke the seal at 7:40 of the middle frame by beating Blue keeper Nick Eno off an excellent cross-ice feed from Marcus Foligno.
The team's switched goalies at that point, with John Cullen relieving Knapp and Michael Houser of the London Knights taking over for Eno.
Nearly two minutes later, a darting Ennis converted off a rush similar to the Beyers' tally to knot the game at a goal apiece. Alex Biega sent the puck up the left wing to Kassian, who entered the zone and calmly zipped a pass for Ennis to bury.
White would take a 2-1 lead when Brad Navin quickly tapped in a rebound of a Beyers slapper. The goal, which would stand up as the game winner, started with an excellent board-pass all the way down the right side that sprung Beyers for a clear shot on net.
Cullen was later stepped up with a glove save on a Corey Tropp penalty shot to keep it a 2-1 score into the second intermission.
The physical pace, which began a minute into the game when Beyers collided with RPI's Nick Bailen, started the pick up in the third. Alex Lepkowski and Adam came together for a nice bump just inside the blueline while Riley Boychuk put a good lick on Nick Crawford along the boards. Kassian showed some competitive juice and perhaps a touch of scoreboard frustration with an extra shove to White wing Jonathan Parker.
While the hits kept coming, White kept scoring as Foligno scored a "typical Marcus Foligno goal" by entering the crease to jam the puck under Houser to give White a 3-1 lead.
White kept going in a four-on-four as Brennan corralled a rebound and picked a corner to make it 4-1. The play began when Phil Varone made a nice backhand feed from the right wing back to Matt MacKenzie at the blueline. MacKenzie's wrister hit a defender in front of Houser, but an alert Brennan came down from the left point to finish the play.
White hung one last goal with :16 seconds to play when Drew MacKenzie's centering pass from the left corner made it's way into the Blue cage. Teammate Matt Zarbo was battling Brayden McNabb at the top of the crease as the puck trickled past Houser.
Blue's John McCarron was credited with a goal with one second left on the clock when he beat Cullen from a tough angle.
Dan Catenacci and Colin Jacobs did not play, while Drew Schiestel, Gregg Sutch, and Nathan Lieuwen also sat out to avoid contact while continuing to recover from recent surgeries.
The most exciting play of the game happened before there were any goals. Early in the second period, Alex Lepkowski made a soft dump into the Blue zone. A chasing Kevin Sundher was tripped by Mark Adams on the way in, causing the center to collide with Eno behind the net before the goalie got up and shot back to the net to make a diving stop to the delight of the packed bleachers.
Usual scrimmage line juggling was in place, and the permutations seemed endless for Sundher. The six footer, who showed hints of creativity with his various sets of wings, centered combinations of Beyers/Lagace, Foligno/Beyers, Foligno/Parker.....Other White lines of note were Varone between Foligno and Parker, Varone with Szydlowski and Boychuk, Navin between Beyers and Lagace, and Navin with Beyers and Geordie Wudrick. Wudrick and Matt Zarbo also saw time with to complete the d-camp speed dating seminar...
Corey Tropp played well skating on Blue's "second line" with Steven Shipley and Cedrick Henley. As a whole the unit would have liked to have produced more offensively, but Tropp made some nice, hard take-outs on the wall and looked good getting up and down the ice in a two-way manner....
The Blue attack was rounded out with Christian Isackson, who missed a first period penalty shot, with McCarron and Justin Jokinen. McCarron, who played well but is probably a cut below Varone and Beyers among the invites, looks like a big-bodied two-way guy who should do well in the ECAC.
Lepkowski showed his all-around tools and range throughout. We know he can pass the puck well and likes to hit, but he has aggressive offensive traits as well as evidenced by his first period bull-rush to the edge of Eno's crease. Lepkowski and partner Corey Fienhage were on the for the only goal let in by White.
T.J. Brennan, who made one of the simpler yet most effective defensive plays of the scrimmage by using his stick to break-up a 2x1, played like a veteran throughout while paired with 2009 third-rounder Matt MacKenzie....Mark Pysyk was comfortable and in command on the White blueline alongside Drew MacKenzie. Much has been said about his skating, but his first two-steps with the puck look even quicker than they did at the mid-way point of 2010-11.
Pysyk's teammate in the upcoming Canada U20 camp, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc looked stronger and more composed while manning Blue's #2 pair with McNabb. Defending a first-period 2x1 in textbook form, the 18-year old held firm before taking away the pass and leaving Eno one-on-one with the shooter....The pair of Alex Biega and Nick Crawford spent the majority of their time with the Ennis-Adam-Kassian trio for Team Blue....Bailen and Mark Adams comprised their #3 pair.
Riley Boychuk's physical game is AHL-ready. As per all previous reports, he was strong on the boards, able to get to the front of the net, and aware defensively.....Fellow 6'5 draft-mate Henley looked a little slower out of the gates. Perhaps his conditioning is still coming around after missing most of last season due to injury.
The game ended with a five-round shootout. Ennis razzled and dazzled with a nice goal against Cullen, while Foligno and Biega also scored...Kassian missed on his trademark wide forward to backhand deke.
More in-depth player analysis to come after scrimmage #2.