-- There was plenty of intrigue and excitement emanating from Air Canada Centre on Tuesday when the NHL's stars of tomorrow showcased their stuff during the 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skills Competition.
Among the top-rated players on the ice were Sean Couturier
of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
of the Red Deer Rebels, Jonathan Huberdeau
of the Saint John Sea Dogs and Sven Baertschi
of the Portland Winterhawks.
In the end, Team Orr, coached by Toronto Maple Leafs
legend Doug Gilmour
, won for the second straight year, 12-11 over Team Cherry, coached by Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry
. Team Orr needed a shootout victory in the 3-on-3 event to rally from a 5-3 deficit.
The skills competition was a prelude to the Top Prospects Game, to be played here Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, replay NHLN-US on Thursday).
"I'm feeling a little bitter about (the loss), but we'll come back tomorrow," Team Cherry defenseman Myles Bell
of the Regina Pats told NHL.com. "We definitely want to win this and we have some guys in our room who aren't afraid to get a little dirty to do it."
Among the individual winners Tuesday night was the Sault Ste. Marie's Daniel Catenacci
in the fastest skater race; Regina Pats' Myles Bell
in the hardest shot contest; the Peterborough Petes' Matthew Puempel in the accuracy shooting contest; and Saint John Sea Dogs' Tomas Jurco
in the Showdown Breakaway Challenge.
Jurco's amazing lacrosse-style scoop with his stick from between the circles was followed by some twisting and twirling of the puck before his wicked backhand off a spin-o-rama found the back of the cage, earning an event-high 39 points for Team Cherry.
Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels had posted the highest score (37) in the opening round of the event prior to Jurco's crowd-pleaser. Nugent-Hopkins skated down the middle of the ice while maintaining control of the puck with a left-footed toe drag. At the last second, he did a 180 turn, kicked the puck to his backhand and deposited his shot.
"I didn't really think about (the move) before the game," Jurco said. "I was just thinking about what I'm going to do at that moment. All those moves I used to do when I was little and I tried them again and it worked. I liked the spin; I never tried in a game but sometimes in practice. On that move, you can take puck from the ice and then it's just lucky if you were going to score. You can't really aim the shot because you're in the turn, but it was really nice. I didn't really think about if I'm going to score, I just wanted to try it."
The highest rating a player can earn on a scale of 10 if a goal isn't scored is seven.
"It takes pretty soft hands to do that," Nugent-Hopkins said of Jurco. "And that spin-o-rama … nice."
"I did all those moves when I was young … not now," said Jurco, who represented his native Slovakia at the 2011 World Junior Championship. "I did like (Sven) Baertschi's one-handed goal though. I remember when Nino Niederreiter
scored with one hand last year … it's probably something in the country."
Both Baertschi and Niederreiter, teammates on the Portland Winterhawks, are natives of Switzerland. Niederreiter was taken by the New York Islanders
with the fifth pick in the Entry Draft last June. Baertschi offered a pair of incredible breakaway moves -- one via a soccer-style header of the puck that was turned away by Team Cherry goalie Christopher Gibson
of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and another on a one-handed, through-the-legs scorcher that found the back of the twine that scored a 36.
"I might have to practice that move (by Baertschi) and, you never know, maybe you'll see it up on the internet next week," Jurco said.
The goalies for both sides were exceptional. For Team Cherry, Gibson and David Honzik
of the Victoriaville Tigres did their part. At the other end, Jordan Binnington
of the Owen Sound Attack and Liam Liston
of the Brandon Wheat Kings were equally solid.
The final event of the night was a 3-on-3 game, with two 15-minute periods of running time. Team Orr notched a 9-6 victory to clinch it. Baertschi scored the only goal during the three-round shootout to give Team Orr the triumph. Team Orr goalie Binnington stopped Couturier, Matthew Puempel and Nicklas Jensen
to secure the win.
-- It came down to the eighth and final competitor. It appeared as though Team Cherry's Tobias Rieder
of the Kitchener Rangers was set to claim his crown after taking one lap around the rink in 14.068 seconds. Catenacci of Team Orr had other ideas, however, finishing in 14.017. Mark McNeill
of the Prince Albert Raiders finished third at 14.132.
Kitchener's Ryan Murphy
of Team Cherry began the event with a time of 14.197 before Team Orr's Dougie Hamilton
of the Niagara IceDogs slipped and fell while rounding the cage on the back end of his final approach. Team Orr's Shane McColgan
of the Kelowna Rockets also slipped while rounding the net, but still finished with a respectable 15.729.
"In the past, I've blown a couple wheels so I was scared about that and seeing Dougie Hamilton
wipe out and (McColgan) … I'm happy it's over and that I won," Catenacci said. "I'm proud of that."
-- Team Cherry defenseman Bell won the event after blasting the puck 98.4-mph on his second attempt. Bell, who also had the second-highest clocking at 97 mph on his first attempt, also happened to be the first shooter. The next closest competitor was defenseman David Musil
(94.2 mph) of the Vancouver Giants.
"It's definitely a nice thing to win," Bell told NHL.com. "It's something I like to do for fun. Shooting hard is something I've been good at for quite some time, so I just went with it. I follow a few of those NHL guys with hard shots like Zdeno Chara
-- they have a few pounds and a few miles on everyone. They're good at what they do."
-- Team Cherry forward Matthew Puempel of the Peterborough Petes captured the shooting accuracy event by knocking out four targets on five attempts while taking feeds from Barrie Colts' Mark Scheifele
and Oshawa Generals' Nicklas Jensen
. Team Orr's Zack Phillips
of the Saint John Sea Dogs finished second, smashing all four targets on six tries. Team Cherry's Shane Prince
of the Ottawa 67's and Team Orr's Colin Jacobs
of the Seattle Thunderbirds hit their four targets on seven attempts.
Couturier, rated No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ratings, failed to nick one target on eight shots.
"I don't know what happened," Couturier said. "I guess I'm used to seeing the holes and not the targets. I'll try to get over it and worry about (the game on Wednesday). Overall, though, it was nice seeing those breakaway moves. But the real game is (Wednesday) and I'm more focused on that."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale