The final result may not have been what the local fans in Halifax were hoping to see but the 2013 Home Hardware NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game did not disappoint in delivering plenty of skill, speed and physical play. When the last buzzer sounded, Team Orr had beaten Team Cherry by the score of 3-0 in what was the first shutout in the history of the Top Prospects Game.
Though Team Cherry was listed as the "away" team in the programs, the partisan crowd was clearly in their favor, cheering loudly for team captain Nathan MacKinnon and his Halifax Mooseheads teammates' Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale. In fact, when Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, the captain for Team Orr, was introduced, a smattering of boos rippled through the crowd, perhaps an indication that when it comes to the battle of which player should be selected first in this summer's NHL Draft, these fans already have their favorite picked out.
With plenty of talent on the ice and very few whistles, the pace of the play drew praise from Don Cherry after the game.
"You can see that this is not an All-Star game. There's more hitting tonight than you will see in ten games in the National Hockey League."
Cherry, who was coaching in his 14th Top Prospects Game, singled out the first period in particular, with both sides trading chances as being quite a thrill.
“I’ve got to say, of all the periods I've had, with all the games, that first period was the best period I've seen."
It was a game punctuated with physical play starting right from the opening shift, when Ryan Hartman of the Plymouth Whalers lined up an open-ice hit on Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward Laurent Dauphin. But Dauphin, a replacement named to Team Orr earlier this week after Hunter Shinkaruk couldn't make the trip, would soon get his revenge by setting up the play that led to the game's first goal.
"Dauphin got down the wing, he gave it over to Jones in the slot and he took a nice shot. I just put in the rebound," described Quebec Remparts forward Adam Erne, who scored what would eventually stand as the game-winning goal while playing on a line with his Remparts teammate Nick Sorensen and Dauphin for Team Orr.
Hartman, who was playing on a line with MacKinnon and Drouin, continued in his attempts to give Team Cherry a spark throughout the first period. He dropped the gloves and had a spirited bout with Windsor Spitfires forward Kerby Rychel, perhaps re-igniting some existing bad blood from their history in the OHL.
This lively pace continued into the second period when Team Cherry defenseman Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds took exception to Edmonton Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar, who was fighting for position in front of Zach Fucale's crease. Although Lazar was at a considerable size disadvantage, he did not back down when challenged to answer the bell and even landed a few shots on the larger Nurse before being wrestled to the ice.
Meanwhile, Dauphin was once again the story on offense for the second period, as he found some room on the ice and snapped a shot past Fucale to give Team Orr a two-goal lead, earning his second point of the night.
That lead was soon increased as Portland Winterhawks teammates Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nicolas Petan teamed up to put Team Orr up 3-0.
"It was just a chip-and-run play and I protected the puck and then smacked it home," explains Petan, who held off towering Rimouski Oceanic defenseman Samuel Morin to receive a pass from Remparts forward Anthony Duclair to get the goal.
Soon after that third goal, both sides switched goaltenders. This ended Fucale's night with three goals against on 20 shots and also closed out the action for Mississauga Steelheads netminder Spencer Martin, who was flawless in facing 16 shots.
Tristan Jarry of the Edmonton Oil Kings came in to replace Fucale and was tested early with Dauphin again on the attack; however, the shot by the QMJHL center rang off the post. Team Orr continued to look like a much more cohesive unit throughout the second and the hard-hitting play was still very much apparent with the period coming to a close as Team Orr defenseman Nikita Zadorov of the London Knights plastered Val d'Or Foreurs forward Anthony Mantha along the boards.
It wasn't until the third period that Team Cherry finally began to look dangerous. Team Orr found themselves in penalty trouble as first Zadorov and then later Shea Theodore spent some time in the box. Unfortunately for Team Cherry, they were unable to capitalize on these opportunities. Captain Nathan MacKinnon was left visibly frustrated during that second power-play opportunity, pushing and shoving for positioning with Zadorov in front of goaltender Philippe Desrosiers of the Rimouski Oceanic.
Team Cherry's best chance of the period came shortly after they killed off a penalty of their own (Erie Otters forward Stephen Harper for tripping) when Regina Pats forward Morgan Klimchuk rang a shot off the post. But in the end, it was Martin and Desrosiers who shared the shutout, while Laurent Dauphin won Player of the Game honors for Team Orr. For Team Cherry, Jarry was named Player of the Game after stopping all 16 shots that he faced.
After the game, Mike McPhee, the coach of Team Orr, credited the existing chemistry between junior teammates for the success. The pairings of Erne and Sorensen from Quebec as well as Petan and Bjorkstrand from Portland both resulted in goals, while Bo Horvat and Max Domi of the London Knights were dangerous offensively all night long.
"We tried to put players from the same teams on the same lines. We thought that would help," says McPhee, although he is quick to add, "But I think if you're a skilled player, you can play with anybody. I played for Jacques Lemaire and Jacques Lemaire used to change lines all the time, some players wouldn't like that, but I think you can adapt. These guys here know how to adapt."
Always the entertainer, Don Cherry perhaps summed it up best after the game.
"They all played good, the first period, like I said, was terrific and I thought it was a helluva hockey game, it really was. We had fights. We had hits and nice goaltending and goals. You can't ask for more than that."
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