OSHAWA, Ont. - Victory seems to be following John Tavares around these days but his Team Orr came up short in both the skills competition and 3-on-3 game at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Tuesday night.
The junior star, the top North American draft-eligible skater according to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's mid-season rankings, sat mostly on the sidelines in Team Cherry's 8-6 win in the skills competition.
Tavares was the first skater out of the gate in the puck-control relay and gave his team a lead in an event it eventually won in a skateoff. He then sat on the sidelines until the breakaway competition, when Edward Pasquale of the Saginaw Spirit - the top-ranked goalie in North America - stoned him on the final shot.
He later showed flashes of the vision and touch that has caused NHL scouts to keep a close eye on him for years in the entertaining 3-on-3 game, but couldn't get on the scoresheet in Team Cherry's 5-3 win.
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen of the Kootenay Ice was strong in the first period as Team Cherry took a 3-0 lead. Phillipe Paradis of the Shawinigan Cataractes scored twice on the same shift to briefly make it close in the second and final frame, but Pasquale settled down from there and a quick two-spot by Team Cherry with about three minutes to go put things out of reach.
They were rare losses for Tavares, the leading candidate to be selected first overall in this summer's NHL draft. Earlier this month he led Canada to gold at the world junior hockey championship and last Thursday was traded to the London Knights, the Ontario Hockey League's second-best team right now, by the Oshawa Generals.
A run at the OHL championship and perhaps a trip to the Memorial Cup awaits him.
Tavares was greeted warmly by a two-thirds full crowd at General Motors Centre, where he starred for the past 3 1-2 seasons until his trade. World junior teammates Ryan Ellis and Evander Kane also received loud ovations, appreciation for helping reel in Canada's fifth straight gold at the tournament.
The skills competition went back and forth and was tied 4-4 headed into the final breakaway event.
Team Cherry picked up a pair of goals against Olivier Roy of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles for a 6-4 lead that Lieuwen made stand up on the back end of the first round.
Team Cherry scored two more against Scott Stajcer of the Owen Sound Attack to take an 8-4 lead before Pasquale held Team Orr to two goals for the final margin of victory.
Team Orr took a 1-0 lead in the puck control relay but Nazem Kadri of the London Knights won the individual race for Team Cherry to tie it up.
Red Deer Rebels forward Landon Ferraro put Team Cherry up 3-1 by winning the fastest skater competition by ripping through a lap in 14.009 seconds.
Paradis won the hardest shot competition with a blast of 95.7 m.p.h. and his Team Orr posted the top average speed to knot things up.
Michael Latta of the Guelph Storm won the accuracy shooting event by hitting four of six targets for Team Orr, but Team Cherry had the best overall score at 4-4.
Tavares has 28 goals and 29 assists in 33 OHL games this season and is in stern competition with Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman for the No. 1 spot in the NHL draft.
While events like the skills competition of Wednesday's Top Prospects game won't make or break that goal, players can impress scouts by showing off their ability to shine under the spotlight.
Notes: The rosters featured 16 players from the Ontario Hockey League, 14 from the Western Hockey League and 10 from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. ... Twenty players from the 2008 game were chosen in the first round of the NHL draft, eight have appeared in at least one NHL game this season and five are currently playing there (Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn). ...