After the originally scheduled game was put on delay due to COVID-19 concerns, the long-anticipated CHL Top Prospects Game commenced on Wednesday evening at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex. Shane Wright and Team Red took on Pavel Mintyukov and Team White, and the results did not go the way many had expected.
This matchup featured multiple jaw-dropping saves on either end, and a high-flux of odd-man rushes generated by both sides respectively. Many of Team White’s players displayed a high level of patience and poise when handling the puck, and were strong at creating turnovers in all three zones.
Let’s take a deeper look at both teams, discussing some of the standouts on each side and their performance.
Team Red’s Late Push Not Enough To Comeback
It was a solid start to the contest for a Team Red roster loaded with talent. Matthew Seminoff created the defensive zone turnover, and sprung a breakout pass to Wright before he was stopped by Tyler Brennan. Just minutes later, Wright scored on a two-on-one chance, converting on the pass which he received from Danny Zhilkin.
Wright was awarded the Jim Gregory Award as Team Red’s Player of the Game. He finished the night with a single goal, and went an even 50 percent on his face-offs. The perception of him as a top prospect has been polarizing, stemming from his early-season play, where he wasn’t producing at the same rate in which he exhibited two years ago. Wright is a player that will be a dime a dozen at the NHL level, and put on display his elite-level skillset squaring off against his age group.
Besides Team Red’s top line, Mississauga Steelheads forward Luca DelBelBelluz made his presence noticeable. He made solid passes off the cycle, leading to a number of high-danger scoring chances. North Bay defender Ty Nelson was electric in the third period, as he showcased his ability to activate from the point, nearly scoring on the power play.
From a goaltending perspective, Sherbrooke Phoenix goaltender Ivan Zhigalov made a fantastic save on Guelph Storm forward Jake Karabela. He extended his arm on the shorthanded chance, going into the full splits position, and showcasing his high-end athleticism.
Overall, there were some excellent individual showings from the top-end players, however, there was just not enough chemistry from the team.
Jagger Firkus Dominant Showing Leads Team White To Victory
Moose Jaw Warriors forward Jagger Firkus led the way for Team White, and it started with the game-tying goal in the opening period. He receives the breakout feed in this play, and is in a one-on-one situation with the opposing defender. He deceptively cuts to the middle and gets past Team Red’s Jorian Donovan, opening up the shooting lane, where he wires the puck to the back of the net.
Karabela put Team White out in front during the second period, as he scored on a breakaway, tucking the puck home by Zhigalov. The key takeaways of this play were his ability to slow the puck down and use his quick hands in tight to score on the backhand shot. For a player that is currently ranked #33 on the NHL’s Central Scouting list for North American skaters, he made a lasting impression on all the scouts in attendance.
Nathan Gaucher, who plays for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL, was another standout performer on the ice at The Aud. He finished the pretty three-way passing play in the second period, as Denton Mateychuk found Antonin Verreault wide-open, who made the cross-seam pass to Gaucher in front of the net.
Led by Firkus, every player in this group stepped up, and most were able to win possession on their shifts at even strength.
Overall, it was a lower scoring tilt than most anticipated heading in, but the top prospects brought their best to the table in Kitchener.