The buildup for the 2015 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game centered around the likely top pick for the 2015 NHL Draft, Connor McDavid. To his credit, McDavid did flash the impressive skills that he has in his arsenal, but it was his linemates in this game that ended up stealing the spotlight from the Erie Otters’ star.
Those linemates, Travis Konecny and Timo Meier, put on a run-and-gun display in the third period of this game that helped Team Orr turn what had been a fairly tight, 2-0 contest with Team Cherry into a 6-0 whitewash at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, ON.
Konency, who plays for the Ottawa 67’s, ended the evening with two goals and one assist for a three-point night, while the Halifax Mooseheads’ Meier flipped that script, finishing with a goal and two assists. McDavid posted a lone assist, but was no doubt instrumental in opening up ice for his productive linemates, something that Konecny acknowledged after the game.
“(McDavid) had one assist, but I look at the little things that he can do,” said Konecny. “He definitely opened up the ice for us, creating offensive chances and driving the net. You never know, if Connor’s driving the net, it opens up the trailer, and that happened to me.”
It was Team Orr defenseman Ryan Pilon that opened up the scoring in the game, however, a goal that held up as the game-winner.
Pilon’s defensive partner both in this game and with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Ivan Provorov, started the play by separating Team Cherry forward Graham Knott (Niagara – OHL) from the puck with one of the bigger hits of the evening. Pilon found himself with the puck on his stick and moved it up the left boards into the Team Cherry zone. Pilon then fired a shot towards Cherry starting goaltender Samuel Montembeault (Blainville-Boisbriand – QMJHL) that seemed harmless but ended up eluding Montembeault to give Orr the 1-0 lead.
“Ivan made a huge hit there, which opened up a little bit of ice,” said Pilon. “Lucky enough, I was just kind of throwing it on the net, looking for a change, and lucky enough it went in.”
Team Orr started tilting the ice towards the Team Cherry end after getting that goal, but Cherry wasn’t without their scoring chances. With the Cherry line of Dylan Strome (Erie – OHL), Mitch Marner (London – OHL), and Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current Broncos – WHL) pressing in the Orr zone, Cherry defenseman Vince Dunn (Niagara – OHL) fired a shot towards Orr starter Nick McBride (Prince Albert Raiders – WHL) that was nearly tipped home by Strome.
A bit later in the period, Dunn tuned in a nice individual effort, nearly scoring a wraparound goal that McBride was able to turn away.
Not long after Dunn’s opportunity, the McDavid line went to work for Team Orr. Not unlike the first goal, the play began with an Orr player laying a hit on the Cherry puck carrier to get the play moving in the opposite direction. This time, it was Travis Konecny stepping into Filip Chlapik (Charlottetown – QMJHL), with Konecny then moving the puck to McDavid. McDavid and Meier then moved into the Cherry zone, with Meier taking a feed from McDavid and beating Montembeault for the 2-0 lead.
The first period ended with Team Cherry holding the lead and a 14-8 shot advantage.
The second period began with Team Orr continuing to press the play. Lawson Crouse (Kingston – OHL) was stopped in close by Montembeault, keeping the score at 2-0 for Orr.
The shots moved to an 18-8 advantage for Orr at the 13:52 mark of the second, but their momentum was stunted when Nicolas Roy (Chicoutimi – QMJHL) was whistled for a high-sticking penalty to give Cherry the first power play of the game. Cherry failed to take advantage of the opportunity, however, and in general had trouble getting any flow to their game.
The goaltenders for both teams switched at the 9:17 mark of the second, with Michael McNivin (Owen Sound – OHL) coming in for Montembeault and Liam Herbst (Ottawa – OHL) taking over for McBride, who had pitched a shutout to that point in the game.
Team Cherry tested Herbst a bit more than they did McBride, eventually evening the shot total at 18 with two minutes left in the second. The best chance for Cherry during their surge came when Dunn sprung Mitchell Stephens (Saginaw – OHL) with a breakaway pass, but Herbst was equal to the task to keep the score at 2-0.
The second period ended with Team Orr still holding a shot advantage of 19-18 and their 2-0 lead.
Early in the third period, the Cherry line of Marner-Strome-DeBrusk line went to work in the Orr zone. Strome in particular showed some good patience in working the puck in close but was not rewarded for his hard work.
With a little over five minutes gone in the first period, the Konecny-Meier duo began to take over the game for Team Orr. Skating near his own blueline, Meier found a streaking Konecny who whipped a shot past McNivin to give Orr the 3-0 lead.
Four minutes later, Meier and Konecny worked some give-and-go magic in the Cherry zone, with Meier feeding a return pass to Konecny who then fired the puck past McNivin for the 4-0 lead with 10:40 left in the game.
Ninety seconds after Konecny’s second goal of the period, Team Orr went to work again on the now demoralized Team Cherry.
Orr forward Ryan Gropp (Seattle – WHL) rushed the puck down the left wing and drove to the Cherry net. McNivin stopped the initial shot by Gropp, but Gropp’s linemate, Nathan Noel (Saint John – QMJHL), was on the doorstep to take a couple of whacks at the puck, putting his own rebound past McNivin to give Orr the 5-0 advantage.
The only thing left for Team Cherry at this point was to break the shutout started by McBride and continued by Herbst. But, other than forcing Herbst to make a diving stop of a drive from the point by Cherry defenseman Brendan Guhle (Prince Albert – WHL), Cherry was not able to put many bona fide scoring chances on the Orr net.
Team Orr closed out the scoring with 1:10 left in the game. Orr forward Paul Bittner (Portland – WHL) picked up a puck dug out along the left boards by teammate Glenn Gawdin (Swift Current – WHL), with Bittner firing a shot past McNivin from the faceoff circle to make the final 6-0.
For his two-goal and three-point effort, Team Orr forward Travis Konecny was named his team’s Player of the Game.
“It’s definitely not hard playing with those two guys, they make it easy for everyone around them,” said Konecny of his two linemates, McDavid and Meier. “You’ve just got to wait, and when the puck hits your stick, just put it on the net.”
Receiving that honor for Team Cherry was Dylan Strome, whose effort was there much of the evening even if the results weren’t showing on the scoresheet. Strome felt that, ultimately, he and his linemates weren’t rewarded due in part to those guarding the Team Orr net.
“It kind of felt a little like an all-star game,” said Strome. “It was just kind of getting chemistry with your linemates, and I feel like our line got better each period. But, because of their goalies, McBride and Herbst over there, they played well, and they got the win.”
One of those Team Orr goaltenders, Liam Herbst, wasn’t originally chosen to play in this game, but received the call when Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie – OHL) bowed out due to illness. The Ottawa 67’s goaltender made the most of his opportunity, stopping all 21 shots he faced.
“That was my goal,” said Herbst of his strong showing. “I mean, at the end of the day, I kind of had a little chip on my shoulder, I wanted to prove that, in my mind, I belonged here in the beginning. Getting the call, and hopefully showing that on the ice.”
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