Team Orr 5 Team Cherry 4
The hundreds of fans who filed out of the Centrium with seven or eight minutes remaining in Wednesday’s Sherwin Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game missed the most exciting portion of the contest.
Team Orr roared back from a 4-1 deficit with four consecutive third-period goals — including three in 72 seconds late in the game — to edge Team Cherry 5-4 before an appreciative audience of 5,432.
Sloppy defensive play by Team Cherry and some great offensive spurts from the winners led to the final result in the game featuring the top 40 North American major junior players eligible for this year’s NHL entry draft.
“It was fast-paced, there was lots of skill,” said Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who along with Ron MacLean and London Knights bench boss Dale Hunter formed the Team Cherry coaching staff.
“Being a showcase type of thing, kids were probably doing certain things they may not do in a regular game, but you have to let them do it and let them play. That’s part of it.”
Sutter called a timeout when Team Orr tied game at four on a Brett Leason goal at 16:45 of the third period.
“I told them let’s just get back to playing,” said Sutter. “But it’s tough to play a real good team game. You just have to let them think and let them go. Just call out their names and let them do it.”
Rebels forward Oleg Zaytsev suited up for Team Cherry and although he didn’t figure in the scoring received passing marks from Sutter.
“I thought he was fine” said the Rebels boss. “He made some plays and he was responsible defensively, which was good to see. He played a good 200-foot game.”
Team Cherry carried the play through most of the opening period and were up 2-0 at the intermission on goals by Arthur Kaliyev (Hamilton, OHL), who one-timed a nifty rink-wide feed from Nick Robertson (Peterborough, OHL), and Samuel Poulin (Sherbrooke, QMJHL), who slipped a rebound past netminder Hunter Jones (Peterborough).
“We had some good bounces and the puck went our way in the first period,” said Kootenay Ice forward Peyton Krebs, selected as the Team Cherry player of the game.
Team Orr got back into the game early in the middle frame when Graeme Clarke (Ottawa, OHL) scored on a great individual effort, stepping around a Team Cherry defender and beating netminder Mads Sogaard of the Medicine Hat Tigers with a nifty inside out move.
Team Cherry responded with a power play marker late in the period when Krebs, from the left circle, hammered a great corner pass from Robertson past Colten Ellis (Rimouski, QMJHL).
“He’s a highly skilled forward,” Krebs said of Robertson, who picked up three assists. “He can find areas that most guys can’t and he’s got a well rounded game. It was fun to play with him for sure.”
Krebs also praised Kaliyev, the third member of the line.
“I can only say good things about him. It was good, I had a couple good linemates who could put the puck in the net and I was fortunate.”
When Kaliyev notched his second of the night at 2:18 of the third period — taking advantage of yet another excellent corner feed from Robertson — it appeared that Team Cherry had the game in the bag.
But Jakob Pelletier (Moncton, QMJHL) answered for Team Orr a short time later, breaking in alone and slipping the puck under netminder Taylor Gauthier of the Prince George Cougars.
Gauthier was then beaten for three goals in the final four minutes and change. Nikita Okhotyuk (Ottawa) connected from the point at 15:59, Prince Albert Raiders star Leason scored on a wide deke at 16:45 and Connor McMichael (London, OHL) notched the winner at 17:11 with a wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle.
“We just couldn’t close it out. They made a couple nice plays that ended up in the back of our net,” said Team Cherry captain Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“We have to be able to hold the lead at the end.”
Added Team Cherry defenceman Matthew Robertson of the Edmonton Oil Kings: “It was back and forth. Our team started hot with a couple goals, but then fell apart in the third and ended up losing.
“But it was a great experience, a lot of fun. There was tons of talent from all over the three leagues and I tried to soak it all in. It was a fast game with a lot of skill involved and you just had to adapt.”
Cozens said he had to adapt to playing with unfamiliar linemates.
“It was definitely a tough game to play, playing with people you’ve never played with, highly skilled players,” he stated.
“It was a tough game to play, not much room with the puck. But it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the experience for sure.”
Cozens admitted he felt a bit of heat with numerous NHL general managers and scouts in the stands.
“There was a little pressure, obviously, but you just have to go out and enjoy yourself and play your game,” he said. “There were lots of people watching but you can’t think about it.”
As for filling his role of team captain . . .
“It was a great experience being able to represent my team and the WHL and I’ll remember this forever.”
Added Krebs, who added an assist for a two-point night: “Either way, good or bad, scouts aren’t going to change their minds so you just have to work your hardest and have fun.”
Jones stopped 18 of 20 shots for the winning team, while Ellis turned aside 15 of 17. Sogaard surrendered just one goal on 18 shots before being replaced at the midway point of the game by Gauthier, who gave up four goals on 16 shots.
Clarke was named Team Orr’s player of the Top Prospect Game, the first to be played in Red Deer.
“It was awesome for our community having the game here,” said Sutter. “As you could see, it was a good turnout and the fans got to see the top class of kids in the CHL who are up for the NHL draft this year.
“It was good for our community and central Alberta. You never know if you’re going to get a game like this again and it was awesome to be a part of it.”