The Colorado Avalanche prospects returned to City National Arena for Game 2 of the Rookie Faceoff.
There weren’t huge changes to the lineup, but some notable ones were: goaltender Ivan Zhigalov started in net, defenseman Jeremy Hanzel was promoted to the top-pair with Sam Malinski, and Jason Polin wore the “A” as an alternate captain in place of Matt Stienburg who wore it in Game 1.
“We knew we had some decisions like with Stienburg – he got it the first game and we thought we’d share it and give Polin that opportunity (too),” head coach Aaron Schneekloth explained. “He’s a guy that joined us late last year and an older guy with some experience. We thought he’d be a guy that could have a nice voice in the locker room and, and he did a great job.”
Stienburg was an alternate captain alongside Sam Malinski – who wore the “C” – at Cornell.
Jason Polin captained his Western Michigan team, so there was a lot of natural leadership to choose from within the group. Oskar Olausson, who has competed in the showcase before, continued to be an alternate captain as well.
Notably, centerman Ondrej Pavel – who spent the last few weeks skating at the Avs practice facility with players as they rolled into town – has not appeared in a game. Pavel was among the college free-agents snagged from the NCAA at the end of last year. He was listed on the Rookie Faceoff roster ahead of the showcase, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
Ultimately the Avs won 5-3 in Game 2, but it was a slow start to the game and Colorado didn’t generate much in the beginning.
“At times we were a little not sharp with our details as individuals,” said Schneekloth. “I was hoping to see a little bit more continuity in the second game – and we had some spurts – but I thought we were a little on our heels for the most part, especially that third period. It’s an experience for these guys and hopefully they take something from it and learn.”
Early in the second, 21-year-old centerman Ivan Ivan tied the game. Ivan has found ways to contribute two games into this showcase. He has smooth passing and a tactful release that have helped to create scoring opportunities.
On an AHL-only contract, Ivan will have the chance to blaze a pro-career path with the Colorado Eagles forward group next year.
He finished his final year of juniors eligibility with a 90-point season on Cape Breton in the QMJHL. Ivan also wore a letter as an alternate captain last season, furthering Colorado’s affinity for leaders.
During the middle frame, Jason Polin went to the bench in some pain. He sat off to the side with trainers, but remained near the bench for the rest of the second. He did not return to the game for the third period and Schneekloth did not have an update on his status postgame.
His absence is a tough loss to the forward group this weekend especially after showing well through that point.
In a showcase weekend, not only are many of the players competing together for the first time, but they’re also coming from a variety of skill levels and experience.
“You’re trying to put these players in a position where they can be successful and play to their strengths and it’s difficult because a lot of these guys, where they come from, have been on the top-line or top-six and so you’re trying to balance out ice times and situations for them,” Schneekloth explained of the challenges. “For the most part, the guys did a good job of accepting where they were playing and who they were with.”
One of the players to earn a promotion from one game into the next is Jeremy Hanzel. The 20-year-old has caught the attention of DNVR ever since he had a good showing at Development Camp in July.
Now with top-pair opportunity alongside Sam Malinski, Hanzel scored the game winning goal by jumping up into the play – he also continued to quarterback PP2, so he earned significant minutes.
Schneekloth said he wanted to “get some puck moving and some quickness out there and create some offense.”
“I thought [Hanzel] was great,” he added. “He has some high skill and we thought maybe it would compliment him: [Malinski] out there being able to move the puck a little bit quicker and create some offense and [then Hanzel] scored a nice goal tonight – snuck up on the weak side and found the corner of the net off a great shot.”
Following Development Camp, Hanzel’s offseason plan included focusing on getting bigger and stronger. Even though he got on the scoresheet in Game 2, he emphasized the importance of tending to the defensive side of his game.
“I feel my offense has taken place, and I think I have to just work on my defensive game (and) get used to playing with bigger and stronger guys, but I think that’ll come with more games.”
He plays with poise under pressure and has a good stick. He can implement a well-executed stick check to strip the puck from the opposition and extend o-zone possession and has taken more time to walk the blueline in search of a great play.
In his own end, he patiently retrieves and settles pucks for smoother breakouts.
Looking at the goaltending from Game 2, Ivan Zhigalov allowed three goals – two of which came on Anaheim’s powerplay. He was selected by the Avs in the seventh round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft and spent last year in the OHL.
The 20-year-old goaltender was slated to play in Belarus next season, but his contract was terminated and he returned to North America this summer.
In some ways, it was fortunate for him to be available for the showcase so he could spend more time with Colorado’s staff and Colorado Eagles goaltending coach Peter Budaj.
“From that guy, you can learn everything,” Zhigalov said of working with Budaj. “He’s so smart – you can tell he was playing in the NHL for a long time. He’s the nicest guy ever. I’m just happy to work with him. Every time he sees one of my mistakes, he (just tells me). I feel every time I’m dropping on the ice with him, I just get better.”
Zhigalov will play in the USHL this upcoming season with the Tri-City Storm.
With just one more game in the showcase against the Vegas Golden Knights prospects, Schneekloth is still looking to get a little bit more from his players.
“It was great to see us capitalize on some opportunities,” Schneekloth said postgame. “I’d like to see some of the younger defencemen and forwards get a little bit more “battle” in their game in front of our net and let our goalie swallow up some rebounds.”
Their final game will be played on Monday at 4 PM MST.