Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon have been friends since they were 15 years old. But that friendship will get put on hold Saturday, when Jones' Portland Winterhawks face MacKinnon's Halifax Mooseheads at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
They are the top two prospects in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2013 NHL Draft, and it's likely they will be the first two players to hear their names called when this year's draft is held June 30 at Prudential Center.
MEMORIAL CUP SCHEDULE
May 18, 7 p.m. ET - Portland vs. Halifax
May 19, 7 p.m. ET - Saskatoon vs. Halifax
May 20, 8 p.m. ET - Portland vs. London
May 21, 8 p.m. ET - Halifax vs. London
May 22, 8 p.m. ET - Saskatoon vs. Portland
May 23, 8 p.m. ET - tiebreaker game, if necessary
May 24, 8 p.m. ET - semifinal game
May 26, 7 p.m. ET - championship game
Their relationship goes back to when each was 15 years old, when they were roommates at a summer camp run their CAA, the agency that now represents both players.
"We just started bonding and sharing each other’s similarities," Jones told Yahoo! Sports. "It just took off from there."
Reaching this point, where they are the biggest attractions heading into the Canadian Hockey League's championship tournament and the upcoming draft, is even bigger than they could have expected when they were sitting in that hotel room as 15-year-olds.
"I was in bantam and I think [Seth] was coming out of midget," MacKinnon of their first meeting. "But obviously we both wanted to make the NHL one day, like just any other kid. I never thought in a million years it would end up like this both at the Memorial Cup playing against each other. … It's kind of funny how things turned out."
They have faced each other on the ice before. They went head-to-head twice during the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. MacKinnon and Canada won the teams' preliminary-round gme, but Jones won the big one, helping the U.S. to a 5-1 win when the teams met in the in the semifinals en route to the U.S. winning gold. A few weeks later they were captains on opposite sides at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and again Jones came out on top, helping Team Orr to a 3-0 victory against MacKinnon's Team Cherry.
Now they'll meet again. And while the opportunities to see each other have been few and far between, Jones and MacKinnon said they kept an eye on how each other has been faring.
"It's tough not to hear about Nathan or Jonathan [Drouin, MacKinnon's Halifax teammate and Central Scouting's No. 3-ranked skater] make a sick move or a highlight-reel goal," Jones said. "It's been pretty easy to keep up with them."
Saturday will give Jones another chance to match up with them, and with NHL scouts watching very closely. Could a strong showing boost one of them ahead of the other?
"It's hard to say how much it could help you, since it's only four or five games you get to play," MacKinnon said of the Memorial Cup tournament. "I'm sure the [NHL] teams have watched you play 30 or 40 times this year. Having a good tournament could help, but we just want to win. That's why we're here."