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POSTED ON Thursday, 01.16.2014 / 1:36 AM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Fight nearly costs two Top Prospects chance to shine

CALGARY -- For a brief moment, Jacob Middleton and Aaron Haydon thought they had lost their chance to shine.

Middleton, from Team Cherry and Haydon, from Team Orr, renewed Ontario Hockey League acquaintances and dropped the gloves at 17:41 of the first period, a staged-but-spirited tilt that brought the Scotiabank Saddledome crowd to its feet during the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday.

But prior to the bout, both removed their helmets -- and under Canadian Hockey League rule, each was assessed a game misconduct. However, the ruling was rescinded in the first intermission thanks in part to Team Cherry assistant coach Paul Reinhart.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 3:52 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Butterflies settling in for roommates Virtanen, McCann

CALGARY -- Jake Virtanen has played many memorable games at Scotiabank Saddledome. His biggest will come Wednesday.

The Calgary Hitmen forward will serve as alternate captain for Team Orr at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

"It's pretty cool," the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder said. "Obviously playing in front of the Hitmen fans, I'm used to that. Playing in front of the Flames fans will be pretty cool too. I played the Teddy Bear Toss here and it was fully packed for that. It was pretty cool as well. I'm kind of used to that. It'll be pretty fun to just get the game going and have fun out there."

Former NHL player Tim Hunter, who saw action in 815 games in parts of 16 seasons, put Team Orr through the paces at the morning skate.

It's the most nervous Virtanen, ranked ninth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its midterm rankings, has felt over the course of the three-day event.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 3:28 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Nedeljkovic, Billia face tough task as backups

CALGARY -- Alex Nedeljkovic and Julio Billia face a challenge unlike any the 38 other players assembled for the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) have to deal with.

The goaltenders will square off against each other at opposite ends of the ice but won't do so until the first stoppage of play after the midway mark of the second period.

In other words, they pulled back-up duty.

"We flipped a coin for it and unfortunately I got the second half of the game," Nedeljkovic, who will play for Team Cherry, said. "I'd rather start and come out after the first 30 [minutes] just because I'm already warm after the warmups. It's how it goes. I'm not too worried about it.

"You always have to be ready to go in no matter what, whether you're starting or whether you're backing up. You never know what's going to happen so you always have to be ready to step in and give your team a chance to win."

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 9:34 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

De Leo a veteran of Top Prospects games

CALGARY -- When it comes to playing in prospects games, Chase De Leo is close to qualifying for veteran status.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Portland Winterhawks forward will make his second appearance in an event that pits the top peers of his age group against each other when he participates in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

De Leo played in the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 26 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, but the 18-year old admitted his participation in that game doesn't give him an advantage in this one.


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 7:28 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Top prospects get put to the test

CALGARY -- Aaron Haydon can be forgiven if he was a little winded after Tuesday's activity at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome.

He might've been running a little low on energy.

After skipping two games on the weekend with a bout of the flu before returning Sunday to play for his Niagara IceDogs, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound defenseman admitted both off-ice and on-ice components to Tuesday's testing left him gasping for air.

Divided into their respective teams, those chosen to participate in the Top Prospects Game were put through the paces by Sport Testing in a plethora of dry land drills designed to grade, measure and quantify their abilities in hand grip, medicine ball toss, vertical jump, standing broad jump and pro agility.

After a 45-minute recovery break, prospects hit the ice to test their skills in a 30-meter sprint as well as drills to evaluate reaction time, lateral agility, multi-directional changes and transitional agility, both with and without pucks.


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 12:24 AM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Players focus on Top Prospects game, not rankings

CALGARY -- Ranked first or 101st, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad knows his journey to the 2014 NHL Draft isn't close to being finished.

Ekblad, the top-ranked North American defenseman in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking, admitted that while the distinction is an honor, his focus is elsewhere since there's plenty of hockey left to play before draft day in June at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

"It is what it is," Ekblad said. "You could rate me one, two or 10. It is what it is. I think the most important thing is winning games with your team in the CHL and playing big on teams like this [the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game]. If you have team success, individual success will come quickly after that. I'm not worried about that. It is what it is and I've just got to keep working hard and doing the things I like to do."

What Ekblad's done throughout his junior career has been impressive. The 17-year-old has 14 goals in 31 games, tops among Ontario Hockey League defensemen, and his 31 points are tied for ninth. He also earned his way on to Canada's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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POSTED ON Monday, 01.13.2014 / 10:03 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Top Prospects Game's a reunion for golden Canadians

CALGARY -- At his billet's home back in Kingston, Ontario, Spencer Watson has a reminder of Canada's golden performance at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

His locker room at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will have plenty more.

Fourteen members of Canada's gold medal-winning entry are represented at the Top Prospects Game, making it a reunion of sorts for Watson and his teammates.

"Everywhere you look, you see someone you know," said Watson, who led the August tournament with 10 points in five games. "That way, it's a nice little reunion. It's great to play with players you've already played with before."

"Just to know you're part of that group and just know you're right there and you're just as good as all these other guys," he added. "It's a huge honor to be playing with all these great players for sure."

The memories didn't stop at Watson.


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POSTED ON Monday, 01.13.2014 / 9:44 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Snowstorm can't stop Top Prospects event

CALGARY -- A snowstorm in Calgary couldn't stop 40 of Canada's top draft-eligible players from invading the city.

Calgary, which will host the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet), was blanketed with heavy snowfall from dusk until dawn, throwing a wrench in some players' travel plans.

"It was pretty interesting," Plymouth Whalers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. "A lot of guys got delayed on the plane so it's kind of been a little hectic getting to the airport and getting here, but it's been pretty cool.

"My flight was delayed a little bit. Just enough to make things hectic."

Nedeljkovic wasn't alone.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 01.12.2014 / 10:06 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Hitmen duo ready to host CHL's top prospects

CALGARY -- There's something to be said for home-ice advantage.

Calgary Hitmen teammates Jake Virtanen and Ben Thomas will have 'Dome ice advantage in the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

"It gives me a little bit of confidence right from the start," Virtanen said. "It's in the [Saddledome]. Others are probably not used to playing in an NHL rink. I'm really excited for that. I'm really comfortable with that. I've been here [in Calgary] for almost two years now. I think it gives me and Ben a little bit of confidence more than most guys."

Virtanen and Thomas will be teammates Wednesday as members of Team Orr.

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POSTED ON Saturday, 01.11.2014 / 2:54 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Offensively challenged Flames welcome Penguins

CALGARY -- The Edmonton Oilers sure didn't do the Calgary Flames any favors Friday night.

The Oilers turned a late 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 overtime win thanks to goals by Anton Belov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, snapping Pittsburgh's three-game winning streak in the process.

The Flames know that as a result, they'll be dealing with an ornery Penguins squad when they play host to Pittsburgh at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday.

"They're going to be hungry," rookie Sean Monahan said. "They didn't expect to lose that game and in hockey anything can happen so I think they're going to be hungry for a win. But so are we."

With Calgary's recent struggles, coach Bob Hartley's attention is solely on his own bench, though.

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Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

— Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog on his team's OT Game 1 win vs. Minnesota Wild