The Wings final preseason game started out as a snoozefest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The first half of the game was a whole lot of back and forth without much actually happening. The Wings went with a kid heavy lineup versus the mostly NHL Leafs Team and about halfway through the 2nd period, Andreas Athanasiou, flanked by Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha decided to make some excitement. Almost all the highlights in the game for me came from Athanasiou's line and even the SportsNet broadcasters were praising these youngsters and the Wings drafting and development.
Athanasiou opened the scoring late in the 2nd period when he split the Leafs defense, beat them in a foot race (duh) and made Jonathan Bernier look silly; Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha picked up the assists. Less than 5 minutes later, the line struck on the power play when Xavier Ouellet and Tyler Bertuzzi dug into a puck battle along the boards just outside the Leafs zone, the puck squirted out, Athanasiou swooped in and took it, and then threaded a cross ice pass to Anthony Mantha who went bar down and put the Wings up 2-0. When you have a goal and an assist, what else could you need in a game? A fight, obviously. Mid way through the 3rd period Dick Panik hit Tyler Bertuzzi in the Leafs zone, and seconds later Andreas Athanasiou laid a blazing hit on Peter Holland behind the Wings net. Panik came in and grabbed Athanasiou around the neck, Tyler Bertuzzi came to his teammates defense, and Peter Holland then went after Anthony Mantha and the two grappled and exchanged a couple punches. It really wasn't much of a fight, but it was an official fight and Manth completed his Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
Athanasiou is fast, he's smart, and he's creative (check out this perfect through the air pass from last night- gif courtesy of Kyle). On both his goal and assist, watch Athanasiou even before he has the puck, he's anticipating what's going to happen and putting himself in good position to make scoring changes happen. On his cross ice pass to Mantha, notice how he had the patience and presence of mind to hold onto the puck just long enough, and give Mantha the chance to get into position and ready to receive the pass. He had his head up the whole time assessing the situation and executing with precision. No rush, no panic, and from the time he got the puck until he dished to Mantha was about 5 seconds, and that's not much time, especially in game play.
Anthony Mantha is also progressing nicely and he's showing the skill and hockey sense that the Wings drafted him for. Watch him in this video before he even touches the puck and it's clear he no longer looks lost, as he did when he first came to summer camp after being drafted. Mantha's gears are turning and things are clicking into place, I think this year is going to be his coming out party in Grand Rapids and a lot of critics are going to have to eat their salty words.
This is going to be a fun group of kids to watch in Grand Rapids this year. Oh, and suck it Leafs!