With over 200 NHL scouts and management assembled in St. Catharines, ON, the Canadian Hockey League’s top-40 draft eligible prospects didn’t disappoint.
The crowd was behind the players every moment in Team Orr’s 6-0 win over Team Cherry, with enormous cheers to hometown players Graham Knott and Vince Dunn of the Niagara IceDogs, and Canadian world junior gold medalist Connor McDavid. The newly constructed Meridian Centre, home of the IceDogs, saw 5,300 spectators enter the building and be wowed by hockey’s next wave.
Jerseys from across the CHL and NHL, even a ‘Reg Dunlop’ and ‘Charlie Conway’ jerseys, were evident throughout the crowd. This was a big night for junior hockey, and a big night hockey fans of the Niagara Region.
While all eyes were on the high-flying Connor McDavid, fans were introduced to the hard-hitting defenceman from the Brandon Wheat Kings, Ivan Provorov, and speedy Ottawa 67’s forward and captain, Travis Konecny.
“(Provorov) with the huge hits fires up our bench and we got a goal right after,” said 67’s and Team Orr goalie Liam Herbst, who was a last minute addition to the game as Barrie Colts goalie Mackenzie Blackwood could not participate due to illness.
“I kind of had a chip on my shoulder and wanted to prove I belonged here from the beginning,” added Herbst, a re-entry prospect who has battled injuries for the last two seasons.
Herbst showed that he has the potential to be a solid option between the pipes.
Provorov’s crushing hit on Knott at the blue line led to Ryan Pilon’s goal, Team Orr’s first of the night, and a goal that made the crowd erupt. Provorov showed off his high-end vision on the breakout, as he made many exceptional passes to kick-start the rush.
Konecny’s quick release and offensive instincts were on full display alongside McDavid and Halifax Mooseheads forward Timo Meier, scoring two goals en route to being selected as MVP for Orr.
The line of Meier, McDavid, and Konecny was clicking all night and had fans on the edge of their seats as the trio made offensive magic and continually caused havoc in the Cherry zone. McDavid kicked things off early, almost opening the scoring on the game’s first shift, by driving through center ice, showing off his dangerous transition game and ability to make plays happen on the fly.
While McDavid registered one assist, he did so much more to open people’s eyes.
“He had one assist, but I look at the little things he was doing,” Konecny said. “He was definitely opening up ice for us, creating chances and driving the net. You never know when Connor is going to drive to the net, and when he does, it opens up the trailer and that happened to me.”
While not all the prospects were able to hit the scoresheet in this game, the overall mood of the event was that a good time was had by all participants.
“It was absolutely a great experience. It was a pleasure to be part of,” said Soo Greyhounds forward Blake Speers.
Cherry featured Erie Otters forward Dylan Strome, whose brother Ryan, a current New York Islander and former Niagara IceDog, was on hand to drop the puck. Strome went head-to-head with his Erie teammate in McDavid, and was given MVP honours for Team Cherry.
The prospects brought their ‘A’ game and looked to impress with each and every shift.
The building was electric and the CHL put on a first-class event, something that hockey fans in St. Catharines have been craving. The buzz around the city was evident as fans were lined up waiting for the doors to open; the majority even took to their seats for the initial game warmups.
While it may be just another piece to add to the overall picture in the eyes of the scouts, this was a time for prospects to make their mark, for better or worse, and leave a lasting impression in the mind’s of scouts in attendance; and that they did, with impressive play each and every shift.
Article by Daniel Deschenes