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Nedeljkovic, Billia face tough task as backups

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Alex Nedeljkovic and Julio Billia face a challenge unlike any the 38 other players assembled for the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) have to deal with.

The goaltenders will square off against each other at opposite ends of the ice but won't do so until the first stoppage of play after the midway mark of the second period.

In other words, they pulled back-up duty.

"We flipped a coin for it and unfortunately I got the second half of the game," Nedeljkovic, who will play for Team Cherry, said. "I'd rather start and come out after the first 30 [minutes] just because I'm already warm after the warmups. It's how it goes. I'm not too worried about it.

"You always have to be ready to go in no matter what, whether you're starting or whether you're backing up. You never know what's going to happen so you always have to be ready to step in and give your team a chance to win."

Team Orr's Billia, ranked 12th among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting in its midterm ranking of prospects for the 2014 NHL Draft, wasn't afforded the luxury of a coin toss.

"They just told me I'd be going in second," Billia said.

Nedeljkovic will play behind Ty Edmonds of the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. Billia will backup Mason McDonald of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

And while staying engaged on the bench won't be a problem, making sure the muscles don't stiffen when they jump between the pipes is the biggest challenge the goaltenders face.

"I think the biggest thing is just staying ready and staying warm," said Nedeljkovic, No. 5 on Central Scouting's ranking. "It's always difficult coming in cold, especially now when you know you're going in halfway. You can find ways to mentally prepare yourself and physically prepare yourself when you know you're going in halfway.

"Between the first and second [periods] I'll be working in the locker room and just trying to drink as much water. Hopefully nothing goes wrong in the second and third and I'd have to come out. We'll see what happens."

Billia plans on taking more of a mental approach to coming in cold. The goaltender for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL is going into action with the mindset that the game doesn't start until he hits the ice.

"I'm probably going to go in at the time of the game where more goals are scored," Billia said. "That's usually in the second half. I'm just going to pretend the game is just starting at the halfway point."

"It's going to be a challenge for me and we'll see how it goes."

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