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Nugent-Hopkins stars in debut in Edmonton

by Mike G. Morreale /
EDMONTON, Alta. -- The first full-contact exhibition match of the Canadian National Junior Team development camp was certainly not for the faint of heart.

Then again, the fans who showed up at Rexall Place certainly got when they came for on Saturday night when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in June, scored a pair of goals in a span of 3:08 late in the third period to give Team White a thrilling 5-4 victory over Team Red.
The Oilers' fans who were chanting "Nugent-Hopkins" in the end are hoping it's a sign of things to come. Nugent-Hopkins struck on a spinorama move in the slot at 16:32 to tie the game before sealing the deal on a rip from the right hash mark with just 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
"After the second period, I had to relax myself and calm down a little bit, just regroup," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We still had 20 minutes left. When we pulled to within 4-3, I just had to find some extra gear if I could. I thought our line (with Phillip Danault and Jaden Schwartz) did well in last few minutes."
The two late goals capped a furious rally which saw Team White score four straight en route to the win.
In the end, the teams combined for 88 shots, including 47 by Red in a losing effort.

Ottawa Senators prospect Mark Stone connected for two goals and Jamieson Oleksiak and Jonathan Huberdeau had one apiece for Red.
"It's always nice to score goals in a short tournament like this and I was playing with two great players (Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Johansen)," Stone said. "They made me look pretty good out there. Anytime you can play with Huberdeau and Johansen, you have to take full advantage."
In addition to Nugent-Hopkins' heroics, the White team was also spurred by 5-foot-11 1/2, 212-pound Devante Smith-Pelly, who was not only a physical force but an offensive threat – scoring a goal and adding an assist.
"I thought Smith-Pelly was the best player on the ice," Canada coach Don Hay said. "Physically, he went after people and was a force. You knew he was on the ice every time. Every shift he had, he made an impression. He took pucks hard to the net, scored a goal and had an assist and made several big hits."
When told of Hay's comments, Smith-Pelly was grateful.
"That's really good to hear," he said. "I'm trying to make an impression and playing my hardest so hearing that from the head coach is encouraging. I try and pick my spots when throwing a hit; I don't want to run out of position but I'll go for it if I can."
Sean Couturier notched a pair of assists while Christian Thomas and Quinton Howden also scored for Team White.
Red took a 4-1 lead 5:01 into the third on a pair of goals by Stone. White pared the deficit to one when Smith-Pelly swept a shot home at 6:03 and Howden on the power play at 12:08 before Nugent-Hopkins showcased the skill that made him the No. 1 choice in the Entry Draft.
"It was definitely a good game and there was a ton of competitiveness out there," Nugent-Hopkins said. "The White team just never gave up. We were down 4-1, but battled back hard."
Memorial Cup MVP and Florida Panthers hopeful Huberdeau gave Red a 2-1 lead three minutes into the second period when he slipped home a pass from Stone at the left post. Defenseman Brandon Gormley, chosen No. 13 in 2010 by Phoenix, also assisted on the play. The Coyotes actually have four players at the camp -- Gormley, forward Lucas Lessio and goalies Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue.
Red opened the scoring on a power-play goal by 6-foot-7, 240-pound Oleksiak late in the first. The Dallas Stars prospect took a pass from Ryan Strome, the New York Islanders' top pick in June, at the point and took a slap shot that dipped underneath goalie Tyler Bunz, an Edmonton draftee, at 18:31.
Just 30 seconds later, White evened the score when Thomas, drafted in the second round by the New York Rangers last year, lofted a shot past Visentin while on one knee in the slot at 19:01. Boone Jenner, chosen No. 37 by the Blue Jackets in June, assisted on the goal.
To the delight of the fans in attendance, the first period was chock-full of highlight-reel hits. Leading the charge was Smith-Pelly. Drafted in the second round (No. 42) by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, Smith-Pelly delivered four crushing blows in the opening 20 minutes. His victims included Oleksiak, Erik Gudbranson, Dillon Simpson and Nathan Beaulieu.
"Devante was throwing some big hits at the start of the game and it definitely seemed to open up some ice for the smaller guys on the line like me and Jaden Schwartz," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I thought that really helped and it definitely paid off for him at the end of the game."
Even Couturier, picked No. 8 by the Philadelphia Flyers in June because of his scoring skills, got in on the action, knocking Oleksiak into the boards midway through the period in the left-wing corner while working the forecheck.
"Guys are competing," Stone said. "It's a chance to represent your country and make a name, so guys are really going to be battling out there. Smith-Pelly was battling. If that's the way he wants to play, then that's the way he's going to try and make this team. I have no problems with that. That's part of the game, and that's how he's going to play."
Both starting goalies played extremely well under some heavy pressure before both being pulled in favor of the backups at 9:51 of the second. Visentin of Team Red finished with 17 saves and Bunz turned aside 19 shots. Red backup Louis Domingue made 24 saves and New Jersey Devils hopeful Scott Wedgewood had 19 stops for Team White.
Players and coaching staff will now pack their gear and make the four-plus hour trek to Fort McMurray, Alta., for the second scheduled exhibition game of the camp on Sunday at Casman Centre at 8 p.m. ET.
"These next two games are really important in our evaluation," Hay said. "That scrimmage (on Thursday) was a more like a get-rid-of-the-summertime mentality, and now there's a little more energy. We expect them to play their two best games -- and with that comes competition, and with that comes evaluation. So these games are very important."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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