by Ron Knabenbauer
SAN JOSE, Calif.--A big third period was exactly what the host San Jose Sharks needed in the first game of the Prospect Showcase.
The Sharks tallied four goals in the final frame and defeated the defending tournament champion Colorado Avalanche 7-4 on Saturday afternoon at Solar4America Ice.
It was the first of three contests in four days for the Avs, as they'll also play fellow rookies from the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks during their time in the Bay Area.
While the exhibition is meant to be a tune-up and learning experience for young players before NHL training camps begin, it's still never fun to lose.
"Obviously, it is the first real game we've played since summer, and it is a different pace," said Avalanche forward A.J. Greer. "I thought we did well at the start, but we could have done better at the end. It's the rookie showcase, and you have a lot to learn for the young guys and the older guys as well. It is just gauging yourself and learning from your mistakes and bringing that into the next game here."
The rookie tournament opener was the first chance for many of the players to compete in an NHL style game against other top prospects. It also might have marked the first game in which they had an NHL logo embroidered on the front of their sweater.
Greer helped ease some of those early jitters as he and San Jose's Jacob Middleton dropped the gloves for a fight just 1:03 into the contest.
"Definitely to wake me up but to set the tempo and the physicality," Greer noted of his fisticuffs. "It was important for me to set the tone as a power forward and impose myself into the game physically. I just saw the opportunity and took it. I think as the game went on, it opened up a lot of plays for my line and other lines as well."
Colorado dominated possession for many stretches of the first two periods as it outshot San Jose 26-15 but was tied 3-3 on the scoreboard after the two clubs traded goals three times.
"I thought we saw some really good stuff offensively," said Eric Veilleux, the San Antonio Rampage head coach that is the Avalanche's bench boss for the tournament. "I thought we had some great goals on time, a lot of scoring chances. Some of them we capitalized on and some of them we didn't."
J.T. Compher, Nicolas Meloche and Hugo Roy each scored to tie the game for the Avalanche in the initial 40 minutes, but the club was never able to string together consecutive markers to take a lead.
The Sharks finally bucked the back-and-forth trend in the third by scoring twice in the first 2:40 in what ended up as a four-goal period for the home team. The run began with Rudolfs Balcers' third tally of the night just 15 seconds into the stanza after Colorado lost a defensive-zone faceoff following an icing.
Gustav Olhaver had the Avs' only tally of the third period at 4:58 to cut San Jose's lead to 5-4. He was the beneficiary of a great zone entry by Chris Bigras and some flashy moves by Shawn St-Amant to create space in front.
"I just got off the bench, skated into the slot and got a nice pass and tucked it in," Olhaver said.
Colorado finished with a 36-23 edge in shots and had both goaltenders see action following a pre-scheduled switch midway through the second period. Spencer Martin played the first 30:33 of the contest before giving way to Francis Leclerc.
The Avalanche rookies have had a whirlwind four days since first arriving in Denver on Wednesday night. They went through testing on Thursday and had only one practice and several video sessions to learn an NHL system before departing for Northern California on Friday evening.
Veilleux and the coaching staff seem to understand that these young players, who range from 18 to 24 years of age, won't learn and execute everything perfectly overnight. It takes time and dissection to figure out what works.
"These guys are here to showcase themselves, that is No. 1. Make a good impression with the Avalanche staff because everyone is here," Veilleux said. "Our job as coaches is I think to prepare them for that main camp. So maybe tonight we'll do some video and talk about the little mistakes that we did. System wise, they're going to have to play the exact same way in one week (when training camp begins). If we can talk about those little mistakes we made tonight and then not doing them again next week, these players are going to benefit from that."
The Colorado rookies will get a little more time to work on the team's system and structure as they have a practice scheduled for Sunday morning before playing their next game against Arizona on Saturday.