The 2018 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game was held in Guelph, Ontario at the home of the OHL Guelph Storm, the Sleeman Centre. Built in place of a closed Eaton’s department store, the rink is a throwback to the Hartford Whalers who also shared a rink with a local mall. That’s the past however, and now we look to the future, and those players who will fly down to Dallas and hope their names get called and their NHL destinies determined.
Every year since 1996 the CHL gathers the top players in the draft year and teams them up against each other. The teams are named after two helped build the tournament, Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Orr, and TV personality/that uncle you have muted on Facebook, Don Cherry.
Ahead of the game we had a chance to speak with Team Orr coach Eric Lindros and Team Cherry coach Don Cherry.
Lindros was filling in for Bobby Orr as coach of Team Orr this year, his first time being involved with the Top Prospects Game.
Lindros: The passing is crisp, the shots are hard, these kids are the best of the best. And they’re not done improving yet, remember that.
Q: What do you hope to see in this game?
Lindros: Well, just that. It’s about having fun. George (Burnett, Guelph Storm head coach) is running the bench, I think we’re pretty organized, it’s about having fun, respecting your team, respecting the other team. We’ll enjoy it.
Q: Do you give these players advice on how to handle their draft year?
Lindros: Ohhhh that’s not really my place. I think in a day like today, where they’ve been poked and prodded for a couple of days, there’s a lot of pressure on them. I just want them to relax and get in the mindset to play.
Q: Did it make you think about, wanting an increased role with a team? I know you do some stuff with Oshawa (Generals, OHL) but would you want a bigger role?
Lindros: It’s a lot of fun. It’s great to get out to Oshawa, but I haven’t been in a while. I’ve got three young kids, so everything starts at home. We’ll see when the kids get older.
Q: Did you see #88 (Ottawa 67’s Kevin Bahl) out there?
Lindros. Yeah, Ottawa. We had a chat.
Lindros: He’s a big boy too, big defenseman. They’ll all great out there, they’re great guys. They’re nervous, right, they’re nervous.
Q: Is anyone pulling you aside to talk?
Lindros: Nah, it’s all me going to them! Everyone’s young, they’re trying to stick to their regular routine.
Q: Do you advise players to take advantage of it, it goes quickly.
Lindros: Oh yeah, it does. When I was here (at a CHL all-star game) we were at the Montreal Forum, and we lost to the Q 8-6. Yanic Perreault scored four. These games stick with you.
I can’t put it into words, others have transcribed it but you miss a lot when you do that. Here’s the full audio of the Don Cherry scrum.
The Game was excellent, and the below players were the top players of the game.
Kevin Bahl - Team Orr
Bahl was a force on defense, doing his best to keep Team Cherry from racking up the points but that mission seemed impossible. Bahl scored Team Orr’s second goal, and set up the teams first goal.
WATCH THIS: 5️⃣ goal second period at #SWTP.— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) January 26, 2018
2️⃣ goals from @filip_zadina of @HFXMooseheads, 2️⃣nd goal from @AidanDudas of @AttackOHL for Cherry, 2️⃣ points from Kevin Bahl @Ottawa67sHockey for Orr. pic.twitter.com/9uXrI3dU4c
Kevin Mandolese - Team Orr
It seems weird to give a Team Orr goaltender a nod in this game, but Mandolese took over halfway through the game and gave Orr a much better chance to stay in it, making some great saves as his team chased Cherry’s lead.
Evan Bouchard - Team Cherry
Bouchard had four assists, and was named player of the game for being the leader on Team Cherry and helping them jump out to a 5-0 lead. Bouchard tied the Top Prospects game record with his four assists in the game.
Post game interview can be found here.
Filip Zadina - Team Cherry
Zadina is pushing hard to boost his draft standings. He scored two goals this game was has one of the fastest skaters out there. Always rushing into the play, and trying to make things happen. Any team that nabs him is getting a great player.
Aidan Dudas - Team Cherry
A late add to the game, he was an injury replacement for Kody Clark (Wendel’s son) last week, but didn’t look like someone who was on the reserves list. Two goals for Team Cherry, and one of the best all around players out there.
Ty Dellandrea - Team Cherry
His highlight was scoring two goals in 20 seconds in the first period, setting a Top Prospects game record.
Full game highlights can be found here.
A good performance at this game will enhance the reputation for some prospects, but no teams are making their decisions based off one game, but it’s a good place to gather your scouts (or entire front office as it appears the Maple Leafs did - Hi Kyle sorry for being so weird when we walked down the hall), and have a meeting and discussion about players and to see them in action as a group. Almost a dozen NHL teams rented suites in the arena to watch as a group.
If you’re a die hard fan and the game comes to a city near you (Red Deer, Alberta is the city being talked about for next year) get out to see it. It’s best on best with stakes in the game. It’s not as much a fan convention feel as the Memorial Cup, but for an exhibition game it’s better than any other one out there.
Tomorrow: I go in depth with the prospects to find out the answers to question we all need to know: Why is Alexis Gravel nicknamed ‘Young Gravy’?