By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back from their 7-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and soundly defeated the Dallas Stars 5-1.

I actually got to watch the whole game this time; and, I have to say how great it was to watch a hockey game. The coverage was excellent, with multiple camera angles and excellent picture quality.  

Related: 7 Cool Things About Maple Leafs’ Eddie Shack

Now to the Game: The Maple Leafs Best Were the Best

The players regarded as the Maple Leafs’ best players were the best players in this game. Easton Cowan was by far the best of the best. Matthews Knies used his size and skill to his advantage all night winning numerous puck battles. The line of Knies, Fraser Minten, and Max Ellis controlled play seemingly every shift. 

Six-foot-six inch Dennis Hildeby was solid in goal stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced. He had no chance on the goal he did give up. The Maple Leafs were caught on a bad long change in the second period on that goal. It resulted in a 3-on-1 for the Stars. 

The only highly-touted player who was not the best at their position was defenseman Topi Niemela. The best defenseman for the Maple Leafs was Miko Kokkenon.

The Maple Leafs Goals Scored

The goal scorers for the Maple Leafs were Minten, Kokkonen, Cowan, Jacob Fraska, and Brandon Lisowsky (Empty Net). 

Cowan, Kokkonen, and winger Ryan Tverberg combined for two goals with some slick passing, Minten scored on a one-timer from Ellis after Ellis stripped a Dallas player of the puck and gave him a sweet no-look backhander in the deep slot. Knies owned the puck behind the Stars’ net for eleven seconds before dishing it out front to Fraska for his goal. Then, 17 seconds later Frasca almost had another one when he had the Stars goalie down and out but rang the puck off the crossbar. 

With the score 4-1 Maple Leafs, Dallas pulled their goalie with over seven minutes left in the game giving Lisowsky the chance at the empty net. 

Related: Three Reasons Why the Maple Leafs Love Calle Jarnkrok

Cowan, Knies & Minten Were Great on the PK

Where the skill set of Cowan, Knies, and Minten was the most notable was on the penalty kill. In three shorthanded situations, those three players completely frustrated the Stars’ power play. They controlled the play, outshot, and out-chanced the Stars while they were shorthanded. 

Niemela Was Not Ready for Prime Time

Not everything was roses for the Maple Leafs. While it is just one game and only the second competitive game these players have played after a long offseason, one player who did not look game-ready was Niemela. For a highly-touted defenseman and one who was declared the best defenseman at the most recent World Junior Tournament, Niemela was virtually invisible in the first two periods. 

He was more noticeable in the third period for both good and bad reasons. The bad was when he took a slashing penalty after a Dallas forward got around him. The good news for him came when the Maple Leafs had two power plays in the third period. Niemela’s comfort in controlling the puck at the point was obvious. That was the only time he seemed into the game though.

While on the subject of Niemela, I like to write about how certain players play “Big” and some don’t. Niemela and forward Easton Cowan are both listed as 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. Cowan looks bigger and plays bigger than his actual size. He appears to be physically strong and able to outmuscle opposing players. 

I didn’t know Niemela’s size until I looked it up, but was surprised to see him listed as 5-foot-11.  I thought he looked more similar to the recently departed Mac Hollowell’s 5-foot-9. As I said, it was just one game.  Plus, at 21 Niemela still has time to grow some and put on some muscle. I hope to be able to watch the game on Sunday and plan on focusing on Niemela more if I do. 

Hildeby Was Impressive in the Net

I was impressed by Hildeby. At first, I noticed that he tends to go down a bit early; but, then I noticed that at 6-foot-’6 he still fills the net. When he goes into the butterfly while following the play around the goal, with his pads together he covers the whole bottom of the net. 

He did lose his net a couple of times as he overshot it moving from side to side, but he does seem positionally strong. At the same time, he’s able to be athletic if the situation calls for it. The biggest thing I noticed was his confidence. He seemed calm in all situations. 

With the Win, the Maple Leafs Prospects Are Even in the Tournament

The Maple Leafs prospects are now 1-1 in the tournament, which is the same record Dallas has after they defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 in their first game. The Red Wings take on the 1-0 Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

The Maple Leafs’ next and last game in the event is Sunday at 2:00 p.m. when they take on the host Red Wings. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Prospects Report Game #1 Traverse City Tournament

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