Nugent-Hopkins leaves an impression at prospects game

Every shift at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game offers a chance to leave an impression and players need to use their ice-time wisely.

Team Orr captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Team Orr captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Orr 7 Cherry 1

TORONTO — Every shift at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game offers a chance to leave an impression and players need to use their ice-time wisely.

If you can score, then score. If you can hit, then hit. And if you’re a team player, then stand up for teammates.

That’s exactly what Team Orr captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and David Musil did when hulking Team Cherry defenceman Duncan Siemens jumped the slick but diminutive Sven Bartschi behind the goal late in the second period Wednesday night.

Nugent-Hopkins, the Red Deer Rebels playmaker ranked second among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, charged in to try and pull Siemens off Bartschi. When Siemens started tangling with the Team Orr captain, Musil jumped in and dropped the gloves.

“I just saw him going after players, challenge a couple of guys who didn’t want to go and I saw him going after our captain so I had to step up and get involved,” said Musil, the Vancouver Giants defenceman ranked 26th by Central Scouting. “Siemens is a pretty strong guy so I just wanted to help them out.”

The fight and events that led to it are among many things from the annual showcase of draft-eligible players to pour over and dissect for the dozens of NHL executives and scouts among the crowd of 8,029 at the Air Canada Centre.

Saint John Sea Dogs teammates Zack Phillips (one goal, two assists), Jonathan Huberdeau (one goal, one assist) and Nathan Beaulieu (goal) led the way for Team Orr in a 7-1 win over Team Cherry. Nugent-Hopkins added two assists to earn his squad’s player of the game honours.

But far more will be read into what happened than simply what appears on the scoresheet, and Musil’s actions for one spoke volumes.

“What sticks out is that Siemens is a heck of a big guy (six foot three, 197 pounds) and Musil was willing to confront him in a pugilistic endeavour,” said Atlanta Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley. “It tells you that he’s willing to defend a teammate.

“The one thing (for players to do) is to take this game for what it is and do what you do best, because it is an audition, and there are 100 guys like me in the stands.”

Nugent-Hopkins, a candidate to go first overall in the summer, put on his usual display of clever passing and deft playmaking, while Huberdeau, ranked fourth by Central Scouting, showed off some hockey IQ along with his a soft touch and flashy puck-handling.

Late in the third period, as play degenerated and things got chippy, he was challenged to a fight by Regina Pats defenceman Myles Bell. He did some quick calculations and realized he had nothing to gain by dropping the gloves.

“I’m not a fighter, so why go in the box for five minutes?” said Huberdeau. “If someone wants to jump me, OK, I’ll go, but I’m not going to ask a guy.

“I just want to show to the GMs and the scouts what I can do, so I’m not going to fight. It’s not my game.”

The rough stuff isn’t part of Nugent-Hopkins’ tool kit either, but he realized that Bartschi getting pounded, he had to get involved with Siemens, a Saskatoon Blades defenceman. So he did, offering a glimpse of his leadership.

“I saw Bartschi get hit to the ice and I looked back and Siemens is kind of on top of him, cross-checking him in the head so I went over there to get him off him,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “Then David Musil jumps in and fights him. It was kind of cool that Musil jumped in like that.”

Bartschi, the Portland Winterhawks Swiss star, Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Vincent Trocheck of the Saginaw Spirit and Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs also scored for Team Orr, which was coached by Doug Gilmour.

Liam Liston of the Brandon Wheat Kings impressed by stopping all 18 shots he faced in his 30 minutes 30 seconds of action, holding Team Orr in it early when Team Cherry came out strong. Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack closed things out with nine saves.

Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s replied for Team Cherry, which was coached by Don Cherry, who sported a cream jacket with large floral prints on it. Prince was only invited to play when top-ranked North American skater Gabriel Landeskog had to withdraw with an ankle injury.

“I completely believe in fate,” said Prince. “It was definitely fate for me to be here. When I got the news I was very excited. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens allowed three goals on 11 shots while David Hoznik of the Victoriaville Tigres allowed four goals on 19 shots.

Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ryan Murphy was Team Cherry’s player of the game.

Notes: The OHL led in representation with 18 players. The WHL had 13 and QMJHL had nine. … By region the players were split this way: Ontario 12; Alberta seven; United States five; Quebec, B.C. three each; New Brunswick two; Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Sweden, one each. … The CHL announced formation of an advisory board to help its players with decisions related to hockey, their studies and their lives. Hockey broadcaster Kelly Hrudey, sports psychologist and former OHL coach Paul Dennis and former Verdun star turned sports marketer Joel Bouchard are among the first advisers appointed.