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Canadian prospects never tire of competition

by Dan Rosen

Canadian NHL prospects like Alex Pietrangelo, of the St. Louis Blues, are getting ready to play in Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Evaluation Camp.
OTTAWA – This morning was supposed to be a chance for the 44 players in Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Evaluation Camp to relax, unwind, rest their legs and mentally prepare for their final opportunity to impress the coaching staff.

So how did the players spend their so-called morning off?

They played some intense and competitive soccer, as well as some other various made-up games with Hockey Canada’s training staff on the football field at the University of Ottawa Sports Complex.

Kids will be kids, right?

“It’s good to get up so you don’t sleep too much, get some exercise to get the blood flowing a bit,” St. Louis Blues prospect Alex Pietrangelo told “It’s nice, though. It was a good decision. We got to sleep in a bit.”

Canada Junior Team coach Benoit Groulx insists the morning off wasn’t a reward.

“We want to give them the best chance to perform,” Groulx said. “I believe they have been working pretty hard in the morning and also during games, so it’s good for them to have a rest so they can prepare for their last game.”

Carolina Hurricanes prospect Brandon Sutter said the time off the ice was needed, especially after three days of intense practices and two straight nights of highly competitive games.

“It’s good, very good,” Sutter told “Before the last two games the pregame skate was like an hour and that’s pretty long for a pregame skate. Usually when we have them in Red Deer (of the WHL) it’s only for road games and they’re 20-30 minutes long. These are pretty tough days.”

Rubber match – Tonight’s intersquad scrimmage will decide which team, Red or White, wins the camp’s three-game series. Team White held on for a 4-3 victory Monday night after jumping out to a 4-0 lead early in the second period.

Louie Caporusso put Team White on the board 2:57 into the first period with a penalty shot.

Again, when a penalty is called no one goes to the box. Instead, a penalty shot from the blue line is awarded, but as soon as the shooter gets the puck the rest of the players standing at the red line race in after him. If no goal is scored, the puck is live.

White extended its lead to 4-0 thanks to a penalty-shot goal by Pietrangelo and even-strength goals from Kyle Turris and Greg Nemisz before P.K. Subban put Team Red on the board with a penalty shot goal late in the second period.

Tyler Ennis and Jared Spurgeon scored even-strength goals within the first 10 minutes of the third period to cut the deficit to one goal, but Team White held on to even the series after losing the opener, 4-1, Sunday night.

“The puck was moving much better,” Groulx said, comparing the first scrimmage to the second. “It’s about being competitive and I thought the game was really tight. The Red team never quit. They came back and they were close to tying the game at the end. It was a good hockey game. This is what we want from them.”

Back on the blades – Prior to arriving in Ottawa for camp, Blues prospect Pietrangelo had skated only three times over the last three-plus months.

Late in his junior season Pietrangelo suffered a lacerated spleen and had mono. He missed all of St. Louis’ prospect camp, but recovered just in time to make an impression here.

Pietrangelo said his timing has been off, but he feels like he’s in decent enough shape.

As for where he stands in the Blues’ organization, Pietrangelo said he isn’t quite sure because they haven’t told him yet. He feels, though, that he can make the jump from the OHL to the NHL this year, “but it comes down to how St. Louis feels about how I play at training camp. They know what is best for me. I’m not going to force anything.”

Finding the right fitDallas Stars prospect Jamie Benn, one of the more underrated players in camp, is coming off a fine rookie season for the Kelowna Rockets. He was the team’s co-Rookie of the Year with 65 points and a team-best plus-32 rating.

Benn, though, nearly wound up in Alaska instead of Kelowna, B.C.

He was committed to go to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for the 2007-08 season, but instead decided to join the Rockets on Oct. 1. Kelowna scouted him in the British Columbia Hockey League during the 2006-07 season, when Benn was the league’s Rookie of the Year with 65 points in 53 games for the Victoria Grizzlies.

“School just wasn’t for me,” Benn, a fifth-round pick in 2007, told “I thought the WHL would be a better route for me to getting to my goal of playing in the NHL because it’s a little faster. It is what is best for me.”

Benn signed his three-year, entry-level contract with Dallas earlier this month, but the contract won’t kick in until he turns pro. He said he likely needs at least another season in Kelowna before he considers making the jump, but Benn will be at the Stars’ training camp in Frisco, Texas, in September trying to earn a spot anyway.

That’s a skillNazem Kadri may wind up skating in John Tavares’ expanding shadow this year in the Ontario Hockey League, but the youngest player in camp has one thing in his repertoire that his fellow 2009 draft prospect is jealous of.

“He probably has the best toe-drag I have ever seen,” said Tavares, the Oshawa Generals forward and consensus No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Kadri, who has to be shooting up draft boards with his outstanding play in camp, said tried to pull the move out of his bag of tricks Monday night.

“It didn’t work out too well, but I’m usually pretty good with the toe-drag,” the London Knights forward told “It’s kind of like my patented move.”

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