KELOWNA, B.C. -- If the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game here at Prospera Place proved anything, it's that defense likely will reign supreme in the early rounds of the 2012 NHL Draft on June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.
In a game that saw only three goals but two tremendous fights, Branden Troock of the Seattle Thunderbirds proved to be difference Wednesday when he skated through the crease and scored a power-play goal with just 24.5 seconds remaining in the third period to give Team Orr a 2-1 victory against Team Cherry. It was the lowest-scoring result in the 17-year history of the game.
"When I came off the bench, I knew there was only about 30 seconds left and saw (Derrick) Pouliot coming up the middle with the puck," Troock said. "I decided to get my feet moving and called for the puck on the outside. As soon as I got over the blue line, I had a step on their (defenseman), so I took it to the net and got the greasy one."
Troock, named most valuable player for Team Orr, assisted on his club's first goal before notching the winner. The 17-year-old native of Edmonton is making up for lost time after missing the entire 2010-11 campaign with a neck injury.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pound right wing, rated No. 90 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2012 draft, has nine goals and 16 points in 37 games with Seattle this season. Goalie Matthew Murray was named Team Cherry's MVP after stopping 17 of 18 shots in defeat.
"We didn't want this to be sort of an All-Star Game where when you got the puck you tried and when you didn't have the puck, you didn't care," Team Orr coach Pat Quinn said. "We wanted the players to play a complete game because there's more at stake in this game for these young men then an All-Star Game. They're in front of people watching everything they do, so we wanted to pay attention to the fundamentals of the game and that's with or without the puck. I think that's one of the reasons it was so close and I'm happy for that."
Team Cherry pulled into a 1-1 tie 8:23 into the third when defenseman Dillon Fournier tucked home a rebound at the right post. The play was set up by a rush down left wing by Mike Winther, who neatly sidestepped Dalton Thrower in the circle before releasing a quick shot on net.
"We didn't give a lot of instruction on how to play without the puck, but I thought both teams played a real good, solid game and the defensemen were really good on both teams," Team Orr assistant coach Don Hay said. "It doesn't surprise me that they played well and physical tonight. The defenders even created offense, like Pouliot did, and both teams played very well without the puck."
The highlight of the game came with 3:22 remaining in the second when Thrower scrapped with Thomas Wilson at center ice. Thrower was sticking up for teammate and good friend Lukas Sutter, both of whom play for the Saskatoon Blades. After being rocked head over skates along the half boards in his own zone by Wilson, Sutter slowly skated to his bench before Thrower and Wilson dropped their gloves and mixed it up in an energetic outing.
"That's what best friends are for," Sutter told NHL.com. "It was a good hit and he caught me at the end of a shift, and Dalton was the first guy to have my back … I wouldn't expect anything different from him."
Thrower (5-11.5, 189 pounds) admits he had every intention of going over the boards and dealing with Wilson once the hit was made.
"I was still on the bench when it happened, but the (defenseman) changed right after the hit and I saw Wilson was still on the ice," Thrower said. "He's a great player and a physical presence out there. I didn't know a lot about him but you see he's a big guy (6-3.5, 203) and I saw him hitting guys out there. I felt it wasn't a clean hit and did something about it."
With 6:13 remaining in the third and the game even at 1-1, Team Cherry defenseman Mathew Dumba plowed over Team Orr's Radek Faksa just inside his own blue line. Faksa's teammate Raphael Bussieres went after Dumba and the pair went toe-to-toe inside the left circle.
"The Western Hockey League boys weren't going to let the game pass without a fight, but in each instance it was a teammate coming to the aid of a teammate or defending the teammate's honor," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told NHL.com.
Team Orr opened a 1-0 lead 2:46 into the second when defenseman Griffin Reinhart took a harmless-looking wrist shot from the far edge of left circle that beat goalie Brandon Whitney high on the short side. Team Orr captain Colton Sissons of the host Kelowna Rockets and Troock earned assists on the goal -- which came on the 20th shot of the contest.
Team Cherry had a golden opportunity five minutes into the third when Martin Frk and Gemel Smith broke in on a 2-on-1 but failed to convert.
A scoreless first period was highlighted by solid play between the pipes. For Team Orr, Chris Driedger of the Calgary Hitmen turned aside 10 shots, while Team Cherry's Brandon Whitney of the Victoriaville Tigres stopped nine.
Whitney finished with 11 saves on 12 shots before being replaced by Murray of Sault Ste. Marie 9:55 into the second. Driedger, added as an injury replacement for Malcolm Subban (groin), turned away all 14 shots he faced before being replaced by Francois Tremblay (13 saves on 14 shots) of the Val d'Or Foreurs.
As advertised, two of the top defensemen eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft were paired along the blue line for Team Cherry at the outset as Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips skated with Dumba.
Murray, ranked No. 3 among North American skaters by Central Scouting, was in the box serving a slashing penalty taken at 18:15 of the third that led to Troock's winner.
"It's unfortunate … I didn't think that would be a penalty, to tell you the truth," Murray said. "Too bad it ended that way but it was a really good game."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale