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Team Johnson wins All-American Prospects Game

by Mike G. Morreale

PITTSBURGH -- The instant chemistry between Dylan Larkin of the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program and Keegan Iverson of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks was on display at the second annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.

As linemates for Team Mark Johnson, Larkin, of Waterford, Mich., and Iverson, of St. Louis Park, Minn., each had a goal and an assist to lead their team to a 5-2 victory against Team Joe Mullen on Thursday before an energetic crowd at Consol Energy Center.

Iverson, a "C" rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list from the Western Hockey League, was presented the Gillette Player of the Game Award.

"Keegan is one of those strong forecheckers where when he gets down low and protects it well and cycles, he can get it done," Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told "He's not what I call a creative playmaker, but he was playing with a smart center [Larkin] and they mixed and matched.

"Keegan has that innate ability to make plays at the right time, and he showed that here that if he plays with offensive players, he can contribute."

Larkin and Iverson sometimes shared a line for Team USA at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec. It's for that reason Larkin, one of three "A" rated prospects on Central Scouting preliminary list of players in the United States Hockey League, knew the chemistry would work well.

"I played with him at the Quebec Challenge and even a little bit on the same line," Larkin told "He's a hard-working kid and he can find the back of the net; he uses his body well."

Larkin, who is committed to the University of Michigan, had two goals and five assists to finish third in team scoring at the Quebec Challenge. The Americans finished third in the tournament.

Team Johnson scored what proved to be the winning goal at 10:54 of the third on a splendid deke by Sonny Milano (USNTDP) as he skated through the crease. Milano, another "A" rated prospect on Central's preliminary players to watch list from the USHL, took a feed from linemate Alex Tuch (USNTDP) and feathered a shot under the right pad of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers, OHL) for a 3-1 lead.

Left wing Joe Wegwerth (USNTDP) pared the deficit to 3-2 when he converted a feed from Ryan Donato (Dexter School, HS-Mass.) at 16:18. But Team Johnson regained a two-goal margin 59 seconds later when Chase De Leo (Portland Winterhawks) scored to give his team a 4-2 lead.

Mullen pulled Nedeljkovic for an extra attacker with just over a minute remaining but Shane Eiserman (Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL) hit the empty net with just 28 seconds remaining.

Johnson, who won a gold medal for the United States as a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team in Lake Placid, N.Y., was impressed with the talent he saw.

"I was excited this game took place in Pittsburgh," Johnson said. "The growth and the energy right now for ice hockey in western Pennsylvania is at an all-time high. Penn State just added women's hockey and the men's hockey team opened a rink not too long ago, so a lot of credit has to go to USA Hockey for the different programs and grassroots level people who continually work. We're reaping the benefits right now. A lot more kids are playing and getting involved in hockey.

"There were a lot of talented kids out there [on Thursday], and it won't be too long before they'll have NHL jerseys on and getting paid to play."

The Larkin-Iverson connection gave Team Johnson a 2-1 lead at 6:57 of the third. Larkin did a marvelous job getting the puck to Iverson with a keep at the left point. Iverson took possession and slammed a shot past Nedeljkovic.

Team Mullen defenseman Jack Dougherty of the USNTDP pulled his team into a 1-1 tie on a power-play goal 4:27 into the third. Dougherty took a pass in the left circle and skated to the faceoff dot before unleashing a rocket that beat USNTDP teammate Blake Weyrick high to the long side. Tony DeAngelo (Sarnia Sting, OHL) and Donato assisted on Dougherty's blast.

"I'll probably hear about that one on the bus, for sure," Weyrick said.

The 6-3, 203-pound left-handed goaltender, who received a "B" rating by Central Scouting in the USHL, did make the save of the night when he somehow denied "C" prospect Tyler Sheehy (Burnsville High School, HS-Minn.) with a sensational glove save off a 2-on-1 rush.

"I saw the pass got over and tried to get an arm and a leg over there to smother the puck the best I could," Weyrick said. "I got my glove there. That was a pretty fun save."

Larkin connected 37 seconds into the second to give Team Johnson a 1-0 lead. The play was set up when Iverson forced a turnover between the circles before controlling the puck and feeding Larkin in the slot. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound center made no mistake, putting the puck in the net past goalie Ed Minney (USNTDP).

Larkin is no stranger to scoring early. He had a pair of goals for the NTDP in a 9-3 win against the Youngstown Phantoms in the season opener; the second straight season he's scored a goal on opening night. His first goal against Youngstown, 1:09 into the game, was the first goal of USHL's 2013-14 regular season.

Team Johnson goalie Thatcher Demko (six saves on six shots) of Boston College was replaced midway through the second by Weyrick (19 saves on 21 shots). Demko's best stop came with 7:22 left in the second when he denied a semi-breakaway by Anders Bjork (USNTDP) with his left pad.

Minney (16 saves on 17 shots) of the NTDP was replaced by Nedeljkovic (13 saves on 16 shots) midway through the second period. Demko and Nedeljkovic were the only "A" rated goalies at their position on Central's preliminary players to watch release.

Mullen was happy to have an opportunity to coach many of the top American prospects in the game today.

"I thought [defenseman] Jack Dougherty [USNTDP] was very good and the Donato line [with Joe Wegwerth and Sheehy] was solid," Mullen said. "I also thought Keegan Ford was solid on defense."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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