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McInnis scores winner in USA Hockey prospects game

by Mike G. Morreale

BUFFALO -- Former NHL forward Derek Plante finds it hard to believe that many of the most gifted American-born skaters in the crosshairs of NHL scouts and general managers also happen to be some of the largest.

Serving as one of the coaches in the fourth CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Thursday, Plante witnessed a few of those agile big skaters when the line of Logan Brown (6-foot-6, 223 pounds), left wing Max Jones (6-foot-2, 205) and right wing Willie Knierim (6-foot-3, 213) combined for three goals and four assists to help Team Plante to a 6-4 victory against Team Roenick at First Niagara Center.

"The only thing that slowed them down were the [television] timeouts, because when play got going, it was fun to watch," Plante said. "These guys were making plays. To have this skill at the size of some of these players is unbelievable. Many of the players that size when I played were a lot slower."

Jones will play for London in the Ontario Hockey League in 2015-16, Brown for Windsor (OHL) and Knierim for Dubuque in the United States Hockey League.

"Knierim made some great passes. Jones had a great day with his speed," Plante said. "I didn't really know him as a player, but it was fun to see how he could create chaos. Brown saw the ice really well and won some big faceoffs for us."

Team Plante scored three unanswered goals in the third period to win the game. Plante spent six of his eight NHL seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.

"I've never been on a line where both linemates were taller and bigger than me, but I guess there's a first for everything," Knierim said.

Defenseman Luke McInnis (Youngstown, USHL), son of former NHL player Marty McInnis, scored a power-play goal off an assist from defenseman Charlie McAvoy (Boston University, Hockey East) with 1:50 left in the third to give Team Plante a 5-4 lead.

"McAvoy came up the far left wall and threw it across to me, and I was coming across down the right wall and settled the puck down and went low blocker," McInnis said. "I didn't know I scored. I was a bit surprised."

McInnis, named the game's most valuable player, was the only defenseman to score in the game, which featured 42 of the top prospects eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center, June 24-25.

Kieffer Bellows (United States National Team Development Program, USHL), the son of former NHL player Brian Bellows, scored into an empty net with Team Plante shorthanded with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.

"Even if we didn't win, this was just an amazing experience," Bellows said. "Getting the win is a plus and something to smile about, but even if we didn't win, I'd be smiling too. All of us are very fortunate to be playing in this game."

Jones pulled Team Plante into a 4-4 tie on his second goal 13:23 into the third period.

"What impressed me about Jones was his speed and work ethic," Plante said. "He backchecks and pressures the puck up ice. A guy who can skate like that, and who's willing to work, is going to have an effect on a lot of plays and in a lot of games."

The game featured six players labeled A-rated prospects, or potential first-round picks, on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2016 NHL Draft: forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Jones, each of London, Bellows, Alexander DeBrincat (Erie, OHL) and Riley Tufte (Fargo, USHL), and defenseman McAvoy.

"For Team Plante, I enjoyed watching Jones, he's a big strong and smart player," said Jeremy Roenick, coach of the losing team. "Bellows is smart and can move the puck. For my team, I liked Luke Kunin, who had amazing speed, and Tkachuk impressed me the most."

The line of Kunin (University of Wisconsin, Big Ten) centering Tkachuk and Joey Anderson (USNTDP) for Team Roenick combined for three goals and four assists, generating much speed over the opposing blue line in creating quality scoring chances. Kunin had two goals and three points, and Tkachuk one goal and three points.

"Talk about hockey sense and knowing where the puck is, Tkachuk is all that," Roenick said. "He could have had four or five points in this game. He was probably the most effective player on the ice for our team."

Team Roenick was led on defense by Chad Krys (USNTDP), Michael Campoli (USNTDP) and Adam Fox (USNTDP). Team Plante received good defensive efforts by McAvoy, J.D. Greenway (USNTDP) and McInnis (Youngstown, USHL).

Plante also credited his top line of Clayton Keller (USNTDP) centering Bellows and DeBrincat.

"DeBrincat and Keller are ahead of the game; the way they react to pucks and move in space is fantastic," Plante said.

Trent Frederic (USNTDP) and Brown scored for Team Plante in the second period. Tkachuk and Kunin closed out the scoring in the second when they each scored in a span of 10 seconds to give Team Roenick a 4-3 lead.

The CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game has seen 74 players drafted by NHL teams in the past three seasons, including 15 first-round selections. Center Jack Eichel, the game's most valuable player last year, was chosen No. 2 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015 draft.

Team Roenick opened a 2-1 lead in the first on goals by Kunin and Tim Gettinger (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL). Kunin opened the scoring 27 seconds into the game when he took a pass from Tkachuk and released a snap shot from the right circle that beat Evan Sarthou (Tri-City, Western Hockey League) just inside the right post.

Jones, who played left wing on an effective line alongside Brown and Knierim, pulled Team Plante into a 1-1 tie on a backhand from in tight on Tyler Parsons (London, OHL). Parsons was forced to leave the game less than a minute later when he took a high shot off his collarbone. He did not return and was replaced by Stephen Dhillon (Niagara, OHL) for the remainder of the game.

"He forgot his neck protector and just when you think you can get through one game, he gets hit in the collarbone," Roenick said. "He has a welt the size of a golf ball there. They were hoping he could get back to start for London in their home opener on Friday."

Center Auston Matthews, considered by many to be the top pick of the 2016 draft, did not participate in the game since he is with ZSC in Switzerland's top professional league this season. His absence should not affect his draft status in June. In two games with the Lions, Matthews has two goals.


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