CALGARY — In what amounted to a showcase of skills in front of a flock of NHL scouts and general managers Wednesday, defenceman Haydn Fleury and forward Conner Bleackley admitted they were somewhat anxious.
But in the end, the Red Deer Rebels players were satisfied with their respective performances in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game viewed by 11,631 fans at the Saddledome.
“Going through the (Subway) Super Series game (in November at the Centrium) kind of helped me in this event,” said Bleackley, who along with Fleury suited up with Team Cherry in a 4-3 loss to Team Orr.
“The nerves probably showed a bit tonight but once I got out there I knew I had nothing to lose. I knew if I stuck to my game I would be fine and I thought I did that pretty well.”
Bleackley, who is the 31st ranked North American skater by Central Scouting for this year’s NHL entry draft and is ranked 14th by the International Scouting Service, had the first scoring chance in the fast-paced contest. The Rebels captain unleashed a one-timer that Charlottetown Islanders netminder Mason McDonald slid over to block just over a minute into the game.
“I don’t know if it was nerves, but normally I would like to bury that for sure,” said Bleackley, who had fan support from roughly 20 friends and family members from High River.
“You have to give their goalie credit, he got over pretty quickly and made a nice save.
“We put a lot of pepper on him in that first period. The goalies at both ends did a pretty good job tonight.”
Fleury, ranked sixth by Central Scouting and eighth by ISS, harboured his own butterflies prior to the game.
“There was lots of nerves but I thought I played well,” he said. “Once you get your first couple of shifts you get used to it and get into the flow of the game.
“There’s extra pressure in an event like this, but once it starts it’s just another game and you try and go out and play your game. You try not to think about any pressure.”
The Top Prospects players gathered in Calgary Monday, met their teammates and coaches and ran through various tests for NHL teams over the next three days.
The teams were coached by former Calgary Flames players Jim Peplinski, Paul Reinhart, Tim Hunter, Mike Vernon and Joel Otto, as well as Doug MacLean and Nike Kypreos from Rogers Sportsnet and OHL coach Mark Hunter.
“It was a great experience, especially meeting new players and the coaches . . . guys who can tell you a lot of stories about the next level (NHL),” said Fleury.
“And it’s always good to share an experience like this with one of your own teammates. Bleacks and I have become really close over the last couple of years and we’ve experienced a lot of things together. It’s been great.”
Neither Red Deer player figured in the scoring, but both saw time on the power play and killed penalties and each player was assessed a minor infraction.
“There’s always pressure on yourself to perform in a game like this, but at the end of the day it’s not going to make or break you,” said Bleackley, in reference to impressing the NHL types in the audience.
“It’s over with now and it’s all about what we do from here and what happens back in Red Deer the rest of the season.”