Top talent took centre stage at the Centrium and they did not disappoint.
The 40 top prospects across the Canadian Hockey League eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft thrilled a packed arena in Red Deer Wednesday.
From a wide range of NHL executives, GMs and scouts to hockey fans from as far as Cape Breton, N.B., the talent in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game lived up to expectation.
In the end, Team Orr edged Team Cherry 5-4 with four third-period goals, including three in the final four minutes. The flurry of tallies showed just how elite these players already are at 17 years old.
“It was fast paced and it was lots of skill, kids were playing like it was a showcase-type thing. Doing certain things that they wouldn’t normally do. You got to let them do it and let them play,” said Team Cherry coach Brent Sutter.
Kootenay Ice forward Peyton Krebs, ranked eighth in the midterm rankings among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting on Monday, was Team Cherry MVP with a goal and an assist. On the Team Orr side, Graeme Clarke was MVP also had a goal and an assist.
“Had a couple good linemates who could put the puck in the net and I was fortunate for sure, pucks went our way the first period there and had some good chances,” said Krebs.
“Either way, good or bad scouts aren’t going to change their minds, you just try to work your hardest and have fun.”
Still, one of the loudest cheers of the night came before the puck was even dropped during player introductions, for Red Deer Rebels forward Oleg Zaytsev who flashed a shy smile on the jumbotron. By far the loudest ovation of the intros was for de-facto home side Team Cherry head coach Ron MacLean.
His squad didn’t disappoint either, opening the scoring just 56 seconds into the game.
Hamilton Bulldogs forward Aruthur Kailyev blasted his first of the night, a one-timer past Peterborough Petes netminder Hunter Jones to get the Team Cherry supporters on their feet early.
Samuel Poulin extended the advantage midway through the second on a loose puck that squeaked out into the Team Orr crease.
Clarke got Team Orr back within a goal under five into the second on a great individual effort. He slipped through the Team Cherry defenders and slid a backhand past Mads Soogard.
Kailyev, who is seventh in OHL scoring with 33 goals and 45 assists this season found the scoresheet late in the second. He hit Nick Robertson, who set up Krebs to extend the Team Cherry lead.
Early in the third, Kailyev was at it again. Robertson picked up his third assist of the contest after he slipped slick feed out to the Hamilton Bulldogs winger.
With the game seemingly in hand, Team Orr engineered a special comeback.
Jakob Pelletier scored two and a half minutes after Kailyev to cut the deficit before Nikita Okhotyuk buried with 4:01 to play.
Brett Leason undressed a Team Cherry defender and got a backhand past Taylor Gauthier, then 26 seconds later Connor McMichael added the game-winner.
“Great game, back and forth. Couple quick goals, then we fell apart in the third they got some good bounces,” said Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Matthew Robertson, who played for Team Cherry.
“It was a great experience. Lots of fun. You try to soak it all in. Tons of great talent from all over the three leagues. Fast game, lots of skill involved. You just had to adapt.”