by Ron Knabenbauer
SAN JOSE, Calif.--At this point of the season when the contests don't matter in the standings--the preseason doesn't even begin for another week--wins and losses aren't the most important things on NHL teams minds.
It's more about developing players and engraining the system that they want to play in their minds. That way when the regular season does arrive, everyone is on the same page for the 82-game marathon.
The Colorado Avalanche was aiming for just that the past four days at the San Jose Sharks Prospect Showcase.
"I think as the tournament went on, we got better," said Avalanche AHL coach Eric Veilleux, the San Antonio Rampage bench boss that was in charge of leading the club's rookies the past week. "There were some little mistakes that were done. Easy for us coaches to pinpoint, but overall the main goal at this camp was to prepare those players for the main one. I strongly believe that they are ahead of what they would have been if they didn't have that chance."
Colorado dropped its final contest of the Sharks-hosted rookie tournament, losing 4-3 to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday afternoon at Solar4America Ice. The Avs went winless during the three-game exhibition, but the record doesn't tell the entire story as one or two plays could have changed any of those outcomes.
On Tuesday, Anaheim was the beneficiary of a late power play and took advantage of it. Maxime Comtois scored the game-winner with only a second remaining on the man advantage and 17.8 seconds left in regulation, giving the Ducks their first lead of the afternoon. They then added an empty-net marker moments later to seal their third victory of the tournament.
It was the second heartbreak in a matter of 17 hours for Colorado after it had erased a three-goal deficit against the Arizona Coyotes prospects on Monday night but ended up losing in overtime.
"I think as a team, it was real positive," said Avalanche goaltender Spencer Martin, who made his second start of the showcase. "We obviously didn't get the results we wanted, to come here and get some wins. I thought we had the best team in the tournament and played really well all three games. It's obviously disappointing to not get wins when the team is playing that well."
Martin finished with 28 saves and played the entire contest after splitting the team's first outing on Saturday versus San Jose with Francis Leclerc.
It was clear after the game that both the players and Veilleux thought it was the club's best performance of the tournament, and it comes at a perfect time with the team's mian training camp beginning in a few days.
Despite having played the night before, the Avs began the matinee with more speed and poise than the Ducks. They controlled possession during the opening frame, outshot Anaheim 14-7 and led 1-0 on the scoreboard after Hugo Roy redirected A.J. Greer's pass in front just 1:42 into the contest.
Veilleux said he thought it was the team's best period of the tournament.
"I thought we created a lot of chances," he said of the first 20 minutes. "We did not give that many. System wise, I thought we were up to par."
Anaheim got back to its game in the second frame and scored two times, but each instance saw Colorado strike back quickly.
Brady Shaw scored 61 seconds after Josh Mahura's goal at 3:17, and it took J.T. Compher all of 18 seconds to give the Avalanche back the lead after Brady Lyle's marker with 2:39 remaining in the middle stanza.
Colorado couldn't respond quickly a third time as Deven Sideroff tied the contest 3-3 for the Ducks less than two minutes into the final period, and the score stayed that way until Comtois' power-play marker in the final seconds.
Defenseman Nicolas Meloche, a veteran among Colorado's rookies, noted playing more consistently will be something the players will be looking to do more of when they join the veterans in a few days.
"I think it is to play the system for 60 minutes," Meloche said. "I think we had a good start and didn't have the result that we wanted. It was a great team effort, and we'll be ready for main camp."
Veilleux now hands the reigns over to Colorado head coach Jared Bednar, who along with general manager Joe Sakic, members of the Avs executive team, assistant coaches and the development staff, watched every minute of the action while taking notes on how the young players might work with the NHL vets.
Bednar and Sakic want the 2017-18 Avalanche to play with speed and pace, but most importantly, they wanted the players to compete. They got that during their trip to San Jose.
"I thought all of our guys played well," said Veilleux, reflecting on the three contests. "All of our guys competed. The main message of rookie camp was to compete. That is what the Avalanche staff was looking for. That is what they're going to demand in three days (at training camp). I thought our players competed real well. Mission accomplished, and now it is time to move on to the real thing."
Next up for the rookies are training camp practices on Friday and Saturday at Family Sports Center and the annual Burgundy/White Game at the University of Denver on Sunday. Then it's off for a six-game preseason and the final preparations for opening night on Oct. 5.
The NHL's marathon is already well underway.