TORONTO -- There's a reason the Saint John Sea Dogs happen to be one of the most revered teams in the Canadian Hockey League this season.
There's a distinct possibility, in fact, that as many as four players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise could be drafted in the opening round of 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24. On Wednesday, three of those four skaters proved why when they scored goals to lead Team Orr to a 7-1 victory over Team Cherry during the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Air Canada Centre.
Zack Phillips had a goal and two assists, Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and one assist and Nathan Beaulieu connected for a goal to lead the Saint John attack for Team Orr, which broke open a 3-1 lead with four unanswered goals in the third.
"There might be some NHL teams that don't see a lot of us but we're working hard and, hopefully, tonight we showed the scouts that there a lot of premier players out there," Phillips said. "We don't get as much exposure as maybe the Ontario Hockey League, but when we do, we want to make the best of it."
That they did.
"It's a pretty big stretch to think four guys will go in the first round, but we made a pretty good case for ourselves (Wednesday)," Phillips said. "Hopefully, the scouts noticed."
The only player from the Sea Dogs who wasn't in the scoring column was Team Cherry forward Tomas Jurco. Still, Jurco didn't leave Toronto without making his mark -- he received the top score during Tuesday's Showdown Breakaway Challenge.
All four Sea Dogs were ranked among the top 24 North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ratings -- No. 4 was Huberdeau, No. 9 Beaulieu, No. 12 Phillips and No. 24 Jurco.
"It'll be something special to see all four of us go (in the first round), but it's a long ways away," Beaulieu said. "It's a process and we're not going to look that far ahead into it right now."
Team Orr captain and No. 3-rated North American skater Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was named Most Valuable Player for his club, finished with two assists. Daniel Catenacci of Sault Ste. Marie, Sven Baertschi of the Portland Winterhawks, Vincent Trocheck of the Saginaw Spirit and Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs also connected for Team Orr, which held a 30-28 edge in shots. Team Cherry's lone goal came off the stick of Shane Prince (Ottawa 67's) in the second period.
Team Orr goalies Liam Liston and Jordan Binnington combined for 27 saves in the victory. Liston, who leads all rookie goalies in the Western Hockey League with 11 victories, stopped all 18 shots he faced until being relieved by coach Doug Gilmour at 9:30 of the second period.
Baertschi and Huberdeau connected for second-period goals when Team Orr grabbed a 3-1 advantage through 40 minutes of action. Team Cherry defenseman Ryan Murphy of Kitchener was awarded MVP for his team.
Team Orr opened a 2-0 lead 5:28 into the second when Baertschi snapped home a shot from the left circle off a picturesque pass from Nugent-Hopkins from the opposite wing. Phillips also notched an assist on the play. The line of Baertschi-Nugent-Hopkins-Phillips combined for 2 goals and 5 assists.
"I thought I had a pretty good game but that's because I had good linemates to play with," Nugent-Hopkins told NHL.com. "Sven and Zack helped me out a lot."
"Nugent-Hopkins is one of the premier players in the draft this year, so playing with him was a privilege," Phillips admitted. "His speed and vision on the ice definitely helped me a lot. And the same can be said for Baertschi, who I know is rated pretty high (No. 6 by Central Scouting) as well. I thought we played well."
Huberdeau knocked home a shot off a rebound to give Team Orr a 3-0 lead just before Gibson was pulled in the second. Team Cherry pulled within 3-1 at 11:59 when Prince collected a drop pass from Ty Rattie (Portland) and ripped a shot past Binnington. Prince, incidentally, was a late invite to the Top Prospects Game as a replacement for injured Kitchener captain Gabriel Landeskog (high ankle sprain).
The best hit of the night came with 5:10 remaining in the second when Hamilton of Team Orr stood up Prince just inside his defensive zone, knocking over the shifty native of Spencerport, N.Y. With 33.6 seconds left in the second, a spirited fight between Team Cherry defender Duncan Siemens (Saskatoon Blades) and David Musil (Vancouver) ensued.
Siemens, upset over a collision behind his own net with Baertschi, has some few choice words for both Baertschi and Nugent-Hopkins behind his own cage. That's when Musil (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) stuck up for his teammates by providing Siemens (6-3, 197) with a suitable partner.
"I saw him challenging a couple of guys and he challenged the whole bench," Musil told NHL.com. "I saw him going after Nugent-Hopkins, so I thought I should just jump in. I didn't really think about it too much … it was kind of fun actually. We threw some punches and exchanged a few kind words."
Nugent-Hopkins praised his teammate for his show of courage.
"It was a great show of teamwork there," he said. "Baertschi was getting cross-checked in the head and I kind of just stepped in to separate the two. Musil saw that happen and he kind of just stepped in."
In the first, Catenacci proved his winning the fastest-skater event during Tuesday's skills competition was no fluke. The 5-10, 181-pound center sped into the offensive end on a shorthanded breakaway off a quick transition, broke in on Gibson and ripped a shot home at 11:56 to give Team Orr a 1-0 lead.
Defenseman Reece Scarlett (Swift Current Broncos) sprung Catenacci with a nice outlet pass from his own end. Liston stopped 13 shots in the opening 20 minutes for Team Orr, including one off Team Cherry sniper Ryan Strome (Niagara IceDogs) with his left blocker off a slap shot from between the circles and another off the stick of highly-touted Drummondville Voltigeurs forward Sean Couturier off a left-circle whistler.