Brady Tkachuk scored the game-winning goal with 5:07 remaining on Thursday to earn Player of the Game honors in Team Leetch's 6-5 win over Team Chelios at the sixth-annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at KeyBank Center.
"I thought he saved it at first," Tkachuk said. "But overall, it was a really fun game."
In a fast-paced game from start to finish, Tkachuk, the son of former NHL All-Star Keith, finished the showcase with a goal and an assist. Ryan Savage scored twice and Jack Randl recorded a goal and two assists for Team Leetch. Jack Jensen led Team Chelios with a pair of assists.
The game, coached by Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch and Chris Chelios, featured 42 of the best American-born players eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft.
Former Players of the Game include Jack Eichel (2014) and Casey Mittelstadt (2016).
Team Chelios entered the third period down 4-2 and quickly found themselves down by three 2:09 into the final period. However, 17 seconds later, they opened up a three-goal stretch of their own in a span of 2:38 to tie the game on goals from Jay O'Brien, Jack Perbix and Ryan O'Reilly.
Then, Tkachuk, who had been a force all night long, buried a one-timer from Christian Krygier to put Team Leetch up for good.
Jake Kucharski picked up the victory, making 14 saves on 17 shots in 30:41 of action.
Team Leetch took a 1-0 lead 6:01 into the opening period when Jake Pivonka collected a pass from Randl and beat goaltender Drew DeRidder low stick side. Then with 5:12 remaining, Team Chelios evened the score when Paul Cotter collected a loose puck in the right-wing corner, cut in and slid one in to make it 1-1.
Savage scored his first of the evening 6:50 into the second period to give Team Leetch a 2-1 edge.
Jonathan Mor made 10 saves in net, including a great right-pad stop on a Team Chelios 2-on-0 midway through the second.
However, on the next rush after that 2-on-0 (at the 9:19 mark of the second period), Team Chelios capitalized when Oliver Wahlstrom snapped home a quick pass from Joel Farabee to tie the game.
That also marked a goalie change at each end, allowing Ben Kraws (a former Jr. Sabre) to take over for DeRidder on Team Chelios, and for Jake Kucharski to relieve Team Leetch's Mor.
DeRidder finished with 11 saves while Kraws stopped 15 shots.
Then just 1:03 after the goal and netminder switch, Jake Wise skated the puck up ice on a Team Leetch rush, sent the puck over to Tkachuk down the left wing, who then wired it cross-ice to Blake McLaughlin to give Team Leetch a 3-2 lead.
Savage then added his second of the night on this feed from Randl, putting Team Leetch ahead 4-2 after two to set up that wild third period.
More USA Hockey coming to Buffalo
Some of the prospects who played in Thursday night's game, including Tkachuk, could be back in Buffalo in December to represent Team USA at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"They've tried World juniors in other places, it hasn't been successful. Why fight it?" Chelios said. "Buffalo's a great hockey city and it's important that these kids play in front of a crowd."
Ticket packages are on sale now for the tournament, which begins Dec. 26 at KeyBank Center and HarborCenter.
This year's tournament will also feature the first-ever outdoor game, which will be played between the U.S. and Canada on Dec. 29 at 3 p.m. at New Era Field. It'll be the first outdoor hockey game at that venue since the inaugural NHL Winter Classic back in 2008.
"I think it's going to be unbelievable," Leetch said. "I think the outdoor games, in general, are always well received, but I think this market - U.S./Canada - everybody remembers back to the first Winter Classic here in Buffalo and how perfect that was. I think it's a no brainer."
Individual tickets for the outdoor game go on sale Monday morning.