While there appeared to be some nerves early on among the group of 40 players competing at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary, the teams were able to find a way to settle in and provide at least two periods of fast-paced, entertaining hockey.
In fact, when Nikolay Goldobin (Sarnia Sting) finally emerged for Team Cherry after the coaching staff made some line adjustments, he virtually took over the entire third period with Sam Reinhart (Kootenay Ice). Indeed, the native of Moskva, Russia almost singlehandedly gave his team a chance to win with a dynamic third period effort.
“We played better in the last two periods,” Goldobin said. “I moved from the third line to the first line (with Sam Reinhart) and that made the third period very exciting for me.”
There was little excitement in the first frame, although Team Cherry peppered Team Orr goaltender Mason McDonald (Charlottetown Islanders) with 14 shots, many from close range. The lanky McDonald, who catches with his right hand, had some help from his goal post as well when a shot from Roland McKeown (Kingston Frontenacs) deflected off a stick in front before bouncing off the pipe. It would be the first of many shots to ring off the iron on this night.
At the other end of the rink, goaltender Ty Edmonds (Prince George Cougars) heard a shot bounce off the iron behind him, but that puck also stayed out of harm’s way.
Late in the period the building received a spark when Jacob Middleton (Ottawa 67’s) and Aaron Haydon (Niagara Ice Dogs) engaged in a spirited bout. The pair traded punches with enthusiasm before Middleton earned the takedown.
“I remembered a couple of years ago when Tom Wilson fought Dalton Thrower, he made a statement, so I thought I’d try the same thing,” Middleton said of a fight during the 2011 Top Prospects Game in Kelowna.
The game remained scoreless well into the second stanza, until Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert Raiders) and Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts) rang consecutive shots off the same goal post behind Edmonds. Seconds later along the blueline, Ekblad dished off to Julius Honka (Swift Current Broncos) who then ripped a shot that Brendan Lemieux (Barrie Colts) deflected past Edmonds.
However, after Team Orr opened the scoring, their 1-0 lead lasted a total of eight seconds.
Off the draw at center ice, Reinhart fed Ivan Barbashev (Moncton Wildcats) at the blueline, with the Russian then moving the puck over to Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa Generals). Dal Colle sent a laser over McDonald’s shoulder on the stick side to knot the contest at 1-1.
After the goaltender change just shy of the game’s midway point, which saw Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers) enter for Team Cherry and Julio Billia (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) for Team Orr, the pace quickened as both teams began to create more flow into the attacking zones.
When Matt Mistele (Plymouth Whalers) was thumbed at the 12:29 mark for boarding, it took Team Cherry only 47 seconds on the power-play to take the lead when Blake Clarke (Saginaw Spirit) wired a wrister from the face-off circle over the glove hand of a surprised Nedeljkovic. Ekblad and Honka, a pair of power-play quarterbacks with their junior teams, collected the assists.
“He’s a brilliant player,” Ekblad said of Honka after the game when asked about their chemistry on the two second period goals. “We got to play the power-play together, which was real nice. I know he loves to one-time it, so I let him take that side so I could either tee it up from the top or fake and give it over to him.”
With just over two minutes to play, Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors) carried the puck across the Team Cherry blueline, weaved into the slot and fired a shot on goal that Nedeljkovic handled but could not control. The airborne rebound was knocked into the net by Josh Ho-Sang (Windsor Spitfires) to give Team Orr a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.
Team Cherry narrowed the gap to 3-2 at the 4:07 mark of the third when Goldobin corralled a rebound and stuffed in a wrap around attempt behind Billia.
Goldobin would factor in again at the 8:33 mark when he was sprung by Reinhart on a partial breakway. Before he could get a shot away, he was taken down by Team Orr defenseman Brycen Martin (Swift Current Broncos) and slid hard into the end boards. He was awarded a penalty shot and appeared to beat Billia on the stick side, only to be denied by yet another goal post.
“I do that every time, that move,” Goldobin said when asked about the penalty shot. “I was just unlucky.”
Team Cherry kept the pressure on Team Orr and tied the game at 3-3 when Reinhart chipped the puck past Billia at 13:53, after Goldobin and Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia Sting) worked the puck down low on the power play.
“Going into the third, we really knew what was at stake and had to show that compete,” Reinhart said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. We won all the battles in the third. It’s unfortunate how it ended but I thought we had a strong finish.”
After Reinhart’s tally, the game looked to be headed for overtime, until the 16:31 mark when Jared McCann (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) took a feed from Ho-Sang inside the Team Cherry blueline, moved to the high slot and blew a shot past Nedeljkovic high on the stick side.
When Nikita Scherback (Saskatoon Blades) hit yet another goal post on a breakaway with five minutes to play, and Team Cherry could not score with the extra attacker during the final minute, the decision on this night went to Team Orr by a 4-3 count.
News & Notes…Attendance at the Saddledome was announced at 11,361…In a little under 30 minutes between the pipes for the starting goalies, Edmonds finished with 16 saves on 17 shots while McDonald stopped 15 of 16…The teams combined to hit no less than a dozen goal posts on the night…Honka appeared to be cut seriously and lost a tooth in the third period shortly after Team Cherry’s second goal when he collided in open ice with Daniel Audette (Sherbrooke Phoenix). There was no penalty called on the play…Team Cherry outshot Team Orr 35-33…Nikolay Goldobin was named the Player of the Game for Team Cherry, while Jared McCann earned that honor for Team Orr…For the game, Julius Honka, Aaron Ekblad (2 assists each), Sam Reinhart, Josh Ho-Sang, and Nikolay Goldobin (1 goal, 1 assist each) registered two-point games…The 2015 edition of the Top Prospects Game is likely to be hosted by an OHL site.
Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51