Team Cherry notches gritty victory

By Ken McKenna

Hockey gadfly and “Coach’s Corner” host Don Cherry endured a tough loss at last year’s top prospect showdown, with his team being beaten soundly, 6-1. But this year, Cherry returned to the place where he honed his hockey skills, Windsor, Ontario, and turned the tables on friendly rival Bobby Orr with a very entertaining 4-2 win in the 2010 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

In a game that seemed at times to be more like a playoff game than a standard all-star game, Team Cherry showed a bit more of the heart-and-soul hockey that Cherry is known to preach than did Team Orr. But both teams displayed hockey skill, great goaltending, and gritty play over the course of the 60 minutes, leaving the fans at the sold out WFCU Centre feeling very much like they had seen a collection of some of the best, young talent in the game.

The first five-and-a-half minutes of the first period belonged to Team Orr, as they outshot Team Cherry 6-0 during that time frame. Team Cherry’s starting goaltender, Calvin Pickard, was sharp, with nearly every shot he faced being a quality scoring chance. Pickard’s best stops included successive shots in close by John McFarland and Jeff Skinner, as well as a pad save on Nino Niederreiter.

Team Cherry finally mustered some offense to get themselves into the game. Team Orr starting goaltender Mark Visentin made two nice saves to keep Cherry off the scoreboard. Cherry eventually evened the shot total at eight, but neither team could solve the opposition’s goaltending.

Team Orr finally broke the ice late in the period. Jeff Skinner fed a pass to Nino Niederreiter in the slot, which the left winger promptly deposited past Pickard. The goal was scored at the 17:22 mark, with Skinner receiving the lone assist.

The first period ended with a 1-0 score, but could easily have been 2-0 had Orr’s Tyler Seguin been able to beat Pickard on a point-blank opportunity. But Pickard was up to the challenge, making a sprawling, Hasek-like save on Seguin.

The shots were even for the period at 13. Although there was some physical play during the period, no penalties were whistled.

Team Cherry made up for their slow start in the first period by taking the play to Team Orr in the early part of the second period. Unfortunately for Cherry, Visentin continued his strong play with several stops on the doorstep, including saves on Hall and Louis-Marc Aubry.

Visentin later stopped Cherry’s Austin Watson off a nice rush down the right wing, then stoned Ryan Spooner in close after a nice feed from behind the net by Taylor Hall. The shots were 19-14 in favor of Cherry at this point in the game.

The first penalties of the game were called near the second period’s midpoint. Neither team looked sharp on the power play, however, with Team Cherry having a shorthanded goal waved off due to the net being off the moorings before the puck entered the net.

Cherry finally solved Orr’s goaltending shortly after the disallowed goal. Emerson Etem scored a shorthanded goal off a shot from the left faceoff circle, beating Orr’s second goaltender, Louis Domingue, to make the score 1-1. Alexander Petrovic had the lone assist on Etem’s marker.

The team’s traded scoring chances through the remainder of the period. Domingue made a nice save in tight on Devante Smith-Pelly off a rebound. Late in the period, Cherry’s second goaltender, Maxime Clermont, made three saves in a row in close off a scramble in front of the net as Team Orr took the play to Team Cherry.

The period ended with a fight, with Cherry’s Petrovic tussling with Orr’s Dylan McIlrath at the 19:56 mark.

The period ended tied at 1, with Team Cherry leading on the shot clock, 23-21.

The third period began with both teams playing cautiously. A fight at the 3:55 mark between Cherry’s Andrew Yogan and Orr’s Matt MacKenzie seemed to loosen up play, however, with Domingue and Clermont both making tough saves shortly after the fight.

Team Orr broke the deadlock at 6:07 on a goal by Jeff Skinner. Assists went to defensemen Brandon Gormley and Mark Pysyk.

Team Cherry countered shortly after on a goal by Jordan Weal. Weal deflected in a shot by Petrovic that was setup by some nice work by Smith-Pelly. The goal came at 6:41.

A penalty to Brock Beukeboom following a thundering hit on Orr’s Seguin put Team Orr in a position to take the lead in this contest. Instead, after Cherry defenseman Brandon Archibald broke up an Orr rush into the offensive zone, he sent teammates Taylor Hall and Ryan Spooner off on a 2-on-1 break. Hall fed Spooner in the right faceoff circle with Spooner scoring on Domingue for the 3-2 lead. The goal came at 11:55 of the third.

Pertovic was whistled for a delay of game penalty just five seconds after the go-ahead goal, giving Team Orr a brief 5-on-3 advantage. During the course of this penalty kill, Cherry winger Austin Watson blocked two shots, including one off the ankle that had Watson limping noticeably after the game.

From that point on, Cherry limited Orr’s scoring chances. Aubry ended any hopes of a game-tying goal with an empty net goal at the 19:00 mark, providing coach Don Cherry with the 4-2 margin of victory. Jordan Weal assisted on the goal for his second point of the night.

Shots for the game ended up even at 31 apiece.

Taylor Hall, who had one assist but seemed to be a threat on many of his shifts, was named the Player of the Game for the victorious Team Cherry. Jeff Skinner, who is the leading goal-scorer in the OHL, earned the Player of the Game honor for Team Orr with a one goal, one assist performance.

Following the game, an obviously pleased Cherry proclaimed, “I outcoached him again!” Then, turning serious, Cherry laid out the reasons for the win.

If you don’t think there isn’t intensity in these games”, emphasized the winning coach, “you should be behind that bench and in the dressing room. These guys are playing for keeps. While we were taking our pictures, boy, you could just feel the energy there. You’ve gotta be proud of the way these guys blocked shots and – I hate to say it to you press guys – fight, and hit, and the whole deal.”

Despite being on the losing end of the 4-2 outcome, Orr thought the fans saw a good game.

That was a wonderful hockey game”, said Orr. “You’ve got 40 kids who represent the future of the NHL, and I think every kid represented himself very, very well tonight.”

Hall agreed that this was not just another mid-season all-star game.

Today was a good event, like Don said”, agreed Hall. “That was the farthest thing from an all-star game. There was a lot of intensity and a lot of skill out there, so this is a good accomplishment for myself and my team.”

Orr still leads the series with Cherry, 7-4. Cherry has a fifth win, with that one coming against John Davidson.