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Top Prospects Game a reunion for golden Canadians

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- At his billet's home in Kingston, Ontario, Spencer Watson has a reminder of Canada's golden performance at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

His locker room at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) will have plenty more.

Fourteen members of Canada's gold medal-winning team from the August tournament are represented at the Top Prospects Game, making it a reunion of sorts for Watson and his teammates.

Teammates again

A total of 14 players who won gold medals at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament players also will play in the Top Prospects Game:


Julio Billia, G; Mason McDonald, G; Aaron Ekblad, D; Jared McCann, C; Spencer Watson, RW; Brayden Point, C; Jake Virtanen, LW; Brendan Lemieux, LW; Clark Bishop, C


Haydn Fleury, D; Roland McKeown, D; Robby Fabbri, C; Michael Dal Colle, LW; Daniel Audette, C

"Everywhere you look you see someone you know," said Watson, who led the tournament with 10 points in five games. "That way it's a nice little reunion. It's great to play with players you've already played with before.

"Just to know you're part of that group and just know you're right there and you're just as good as all these other guys. It's a huge honor to be playing with all these great players for sure."

The memories didn't stop at Watson.

Oshawa Generals forward Michael Dal Colle wasted little time renewing friendships forged on the ice during the summer in the Czech Republic.

"To be honest with you, as soon as I saw some guys I shook their hands and gave some bro hugs," Dal Colle said. "It was great to see those guys. It was obviously a fun experience."

In a way, that journey helped Dal Colle prepare for the Top Prospects Game.

Already familiar with those he skates against regularly in the Ontario Hockey League, the Hlinka tournament allowed him the opportunity to get to know four Team Cherry teammates.

"I think on my team I know the majority of the guys," Dal Colle said. "I've played with them through Hockey Canada events or played against them in the OHL. I've introduced myself to the majority of the guys from the other leagues too. It's fun to play with more different players."

The bigger advantage gained from the Hlinka tournament will be for Team Orr, which has nine players, including both goaltenders, who shared the ice together in the Czech Republic last summer -- none more notable than Aaron Ekblad and Jake Virtanen.

In Canada's tournament selection camp Ekblad, a defenseman with the Barrie Colts, and Virtanen, a forward with the Calgary Hitmen, went head-to-head in what was the tryout's most notorious battle.

Ekblad hasn't forgotten.

"He was kind of coming after me and I was kind of going after him," he said. "That's what hockey is. When you're on opposite sides of the puck, it's a battle. As soon as you're on the same team it's a whole different relationship."

Funny what making the team and winning gold can do for a rivalry, Virtanen said.

"When we made the team we both knew," Virtanen said. "We were in separate parts of the hotel and we went down and he said he hated me during the tryouts but he had to love me now because he was my teammate.

"Me and Aaron have good memories with each other. We're best buddies now."

And teammates again in the Top Prospects Game.

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