and Devante Smith-Pelly have become an unstoppable duo this week at Rexall Place. They've quickly developed chemistry as National Junior Development Camp linemates, but have proven to be Canada's most dynamic option in the faceoff circle as well.
It's pretty easy to look good when you're cheating, mind you.
Head Coach Don Hay concluded Friday's session with an intense and energetic practice on draws. The matches were all spirited, but Nugent-Hopkins and Smith-Pelly brought the aggressiveness to an all-time high. It wasn't uncommon to see them both chase the puck across the hash marks, diving in a last-ditch effort to preserve the win.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Still reeling from his loss to Anaheim's 2010 second round pick, Nugent-Hopkins provided a summary of the event. Although media pressed for a reaction, he did his best to contain his overwhelming emotion.
"Even when the draw was won, there were still battles," he said. "I think we battled for 20 seconds after it was actually taken. It's very competitive out there.
"You've got to do everything you can to win."
Smith-Pelly respected that comment, but still chose to call out the skilled pivot in a post-practice media scrum. Apparently there was still some bad blood lingering from the engagement 15 minutes prior, which seemed to spark controversy.
"He probably would have gotten kicked out, but I still came out on top. That's how good I am. He stopped cheating when [Head Coach Don Hay] came back in.
"I guess I have some pretty good bragging rights heading into the weekend."
Nugent-Hopkins could only laugh at his challenger's not-so-humble assessment.
"I think he was going a bit too soon to come over the top, but I'm not going to tell on him or anything. If he wants to do that, that's okay with me."
According to Smith-Pelly, he had a subtle advantage over Nugent-Hopkins. The Scarborough, Ontario native has, over time, worked on whatever possible to overthrow the game's most skilled centremen.
"I used to play centre a long time ago," he explained. "I was trying to use my body and get in tight on [Nugent-Hopkins]. The key is to lean down hard on my stick and use my body as much as possible."
"I didn't have much of a chance of winning," Nugent-Hopkins added. "I guess [wingers] have to cheat."
Smith-Pelly most certainly agreed; at least, from his perspective anyway.
"If you're not cheating, you're not trying," he laughed. "It all starts in the faceoff dot. You've got to win the draw to get possession and make plays. There was no lineseman, so I'm not surprised we were both going for the edge."
Gracious in victory, Smith-Pelly had some kind words for his talented linemate. They will once again work together as the much-anticipated Team Red vs. Team White game gets underway Saturday night at Rexall Place.
"He's obviously got high-end skill, but I think he's very underrated defensively. I was watching him today and he can check anyone on the ice. He's going to be a great two-way player and he's really easy to play with."Follow Ryan Dittrick on Twitter | @ryandittrick