|Forty of the top North American prospects combined to score 12 goals Wednesday in the Home Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
Forty of the top North American prospects combined to score 12 goals Wednesday in the Home Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
Joshua Bailey of the Windsor Spitfires scored twice and Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes added a goal and two assists to help Team White to an 8-4 win against Team Red in the annual showcase game that attracted 13,596 fans, scouts and NHL general managers.
Steve Stamkos, the Sarnia Sting centre that is touted as the top player in a very deep draft class, said that he expected the game to be played at a quick tempo.
“It’s no surprise when you are playing with the best players in the Canadian Hockey League,” said Stamkos, who had a goal and an assist to go along with a fighting major in the closing minutes of the game. “The pace was unbelievable.”
Luke Schenn of the Kelowna Rockets and Jared Staal of the Sudbury Wolves scored 18 seconds apart early in the first period to give White an early lead. Jamie Arniel of the Sarnia Sting and Bailey also scored in the first period.
“We came out pretty good,” said Schenn, one of four players in the game that helped Canada win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships earlier this month. “We were pretty happy with the way we started. We got a goal on one of our first shifts of the game and that got our confidence up.”
Virtually every player that has played in the game has gone on to be drafted by an NHL team, including Chicago Blackhawks’ standout rookie Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers, who both played in the game last year in Quebec City. Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash and Dion Phaneuf are other notable names that suited up in the Top Prospects Game before embarking on their NHL careers.
“This is a big stepping stone for them,” said Edmonton Oilers’ great Glenn Anderson, who combined with Grant Fuhr as coaches for Team White. Calgary Flames’ legends Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon were behind the bench for Team Red.
“They are at the pinnacle of making a big career move,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of pressure on them, but they handled it really well. They did a really good job.”
Previous games have been coached by the likes of Bobby Orr, Don Cherry, Scotty Bowman, Patrick Roy, Jacques Demers and Pat Burns. CHL President David Branch said that the coaches play an important role in the event and this year’s Battle of Alberta theme was a huge success.
“It’s awesome having them come back and connect with the CHL,” said Branch, who is also Commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League. “These fellas really embraced this. They understand the importance of this game to the players and recognize their responsibility to help prepare and help these guys along the way. There’s a lot on the line.”
The game hosted hundreds of NHL team and league scouts, as well as several general managers who use the Top Prospects Game as an opportunity to evaluate players first hand.
“I think it’s good for the scouts,” said Doug Risebrough, President and GM of the Minnesota Wild. “They like to see the match up against the top players and I think the kids know that and get prepared. For a general manager it doesn’t get any better than this because you can see one game and see a lot of players.”
Despite the all-star feel of the event, the game on the ice wasn’t anything like your typical all-star game.
Schenn distributed several heavy hits and said that it was a physical game.
“There are a lot of people watching us and a lot of eyes on us,” said Schenn, who was rated No. 7 among North American prospects in the mid-term draft rankings released by NHL Central Scouting two weeks ago. “We’re trying to prove to a lot of people out there how we play the game and everyone wants to play the way they are capable of. It’s not an all-star game out there at all. It was pretty physical out there.”
Staal is the fourth member of his famous hockey family to play in the Top Prospects Game. He follows older brothers Eric, Marc and Jordan, who were all first-round NHL draft picks. Jordan, a sophomore with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored in the 2006 game in Ottawa. Marc, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers, played in 2005 in Vancouver and oldest brother Eric of the Carolina Hurricanes picked up an assist in the 2003 game in Kitchener.
The players were selected to play in the game by a voting process among the 30 NHL teams.
“The choices came from the NHL teams,” said E.J. McGuire, Director of NHL Central Scouting. “Because of that, these guys should be honored and maybe even confident that one of the 30 teams is going to take each and every one of these guys.”