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Team Orr edges Team Cherry in Top Prospects game

by Mike G. Morreale

CALGARY -- Jared McCann called it the biggest goal of his career. It occurred in the most important game of his life to this point.

McCann, a center for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, scored with 3:29 left in regulation to give Team Orr a 4-3 victory against Team Cherry in the 19th BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday night.

"I definitely haven't scored a bigger goal," McCann said. "It's amazing."

McCann took a pass from Joshua Ho-Sang (Windsor Spitfires) between the circles and ripped a high shot that beat goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers) just inside the left post. McCann, who has 20 goals and 43 points in 42 games for Sault Ste. Marie, is No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible skaters in North America. He was named the player of the game for Team Orr.

"All the credit goes to Josh on that goal," McCann said. "He made an unbelievable pass and I just tried to get it to the net."

Team Cherry captain Sam Reinhart (Kootenay Ice), No. 4 on Central Scouting's midterm rankings, finished with one goal and one assist.

"It was a great experience," Reinhart said. "It was the first and probably the only time we'd all be together for this draft class. It was important to all of us and we wanted to play well. Now the focus is going back with our club teams and to focus and play with some confidence in the second half of the season."

Team Orr captain and No. 3-ranked Aaron Ekblad chipped in with two assists in the victory. The highest-rated player on Central Scouting's list, No. 2-ranked Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert Raiders) of Team Orr, generated two shots.

"A lot of guys don't want to be embarrassed out there, so it's important to go hard and that's what we felt we had to do," Ekblad said. "I view it as just another good experience in the hockey world. Every team you come in contact seems to become a family very quickly. Hockey players have a special bond between each other. I don't think anyone can deny that, especially when you win."

The top-ranked prospect on Central Scouting's list, center Samuel Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs, was unable to play due to a lower-body injury.

Team Orr defenseman Julius Honka (Swift Current Broncos), who captured a gold medal with Finland at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, was helped off the ice 4:20 into the third after being inadvertently hit in the face with a high stick from Daniel Audette (Sherbrooke Phoenix) at the Orr blue line. Honka (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) was lining up Audette for a check before the Team Cherry forward lifted his stick to defend himself, clipping Honka in the face. He did not return and was unable to speak to the media afterwards.

Reinhart pulled Team Cherry into a 3-3 tie with 6:07 left in regulation by scoring a power-play goal. Reinhart set up in the slot, collected a back-door pass from Nikolay Goldobin (Sarnia Sting) and swept it home. The goal came 22 seconds after Goldobin forced a hooking penalty. Goldobin, who had a goal and an assist, was named player of the game for Team Cherry.

Team Cherry made it 3-2 at 4:07 of the third when Goldobin scored off assists from Matt Mistele (Plymouth Whalers) and Ryan MacInnis (Kitchener Rangers). Goldobin curled the cage and beat goalie Julio Billia (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) with a wraparound.

Goldobin, No. 14 on Central Scouting's midterm list, almost evened the score 8:33 into the third when he was awarded a penalty shot after being pulled down from behind by Brycen Martin (Swift Current Broncos). Goldobin's shot beat Billia but rang the left post.

Team Orr goalies Mason McDonald (17 saves on 18 shots) of the Charlottetown Islanders and Billia (17 saves, 19 shots) combined for the win. The Team Cherry goalies were Ty Edmonds (16 saves, 17 shots) of the Prince George Cougars and Nedljkovic (13 saves, 16 shots).

After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for four goals in the second, three of them by Team Orr. Ho-Sang showed great hand-eye coordination when he gave Team Orr a 3-1 edge at 17:42, bunting home a waist-high puck after taking a tough pass from Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors).

Ho-Sang, ranked No. 18 on Central Scouting's midterm list, did his best to make quite an impression in the game.

"Josh is a high-energy forward with excellent speed and quickness," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He's got a dynamic game with the puck and is capable of making the plays at top speed. He offers very good puck control and playmaking ability through traffic."

Team Orr left wing Blake Clarke (Saginaw Spirit) snapped a 1-1 tie with a bullet from the right circle that beat Nedeljkovic to the short side underneath the crossbar at 13:16. Honka and Ekblad assisted on the goal.

After being outplayed for much of the first period, Team Orr stepped up its game and scored 9:00 into the second when Honka's power-play shot from the left point was deflected in by Brendan Lemieux (Barrie Colts). Ekblad, Lemieux's teammate in Barrie, had the other assist.

"It was a fun game, but not one of my greatest games," Ekblad said. "I turned over quite a few pucks. It was kind of hard, but that was the way of the game."

Team Cherry tied it eight seconds later when Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa Generals) unleashed a tremendous slap shot from just inside the left circle that beat McDonald high to the long side. Ivan Barbashev (Moncton Wildcats) and Reinhart assisted on the goal.

"I think in the beginning it was nerve-racking for many players and it was probably the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of in their career," Dal Colle said. "But as everyone got into it, you could see things starting to pick up. I thought I played a pretty good game; I showed what I could do on a stage like this."

Dal Colle, No. 5 on Central Scouting's midterm list, also rang the goal post late in the second. In fact, there were at least a half-dozen shots that rang off the post throughout the course of the game.

Marr certainly likes Dal Colle's game.

"He has an excellent two-way game and excels in both skill and physical situations," he said. "He plays an energy game to the net and is the first player in on the fore-check, creating scoring chances every time he's on the ice. He passes and shoots with authority and is used in all situations in Oshawa."

McDonald was the star of the first, when Team Orr held a 14-7 advantage in shots. He denied Conner Bleackley (Red Deer Rebels) off a 2-on-1 just 76 seconds into the game and stopped a short-side shot by Nicholas Ritchie (Peterborough Petes) 45 seconds later.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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