The NHL All-Star game is often criticized for being a lackadaisical, frivolous affair. The format has been altered numerous times over the last couple years to make it appealing and entertaining, and yet many within the hockey world have called on it to just be abolished completely.
Yet, fans looking for a matchup of the hockey’s best talent in an intense and meaningful game need not look further then GTHL Top Prospects Game, Powered by Under Armour. The event has entered its 10th year of existence, and it would not be far-reaching to proclaim that Tuesday night’s edition, a thrilling 4-3 for Team Graves-Primeau-Tucker over Team Clark-Weaver-Corson, was the best game yet.
The physicality that these players bring in the regular season was present right from puck drop. Toronto Marlboros bash brothers Logan Mailloux and Artem Guryev set the tone with jarring hits in open ice and along the boards. Their teammate and sniper Danill Zilkhin opened the scoring with a quick wrister midway through the frame, beating Toronto Red Wings goaltender Joshua Rosenzweig. The blue and white showcase continued when Marlboros defensemen Ethan Del Mastro doubled the lead with a nifty wrist shot of his own from the point.
Rosenzweig would settle down and make some huge saves before members of the Don Mills contingent answered the bell for Team Clark-Weaver-Corson off a beautiful one-timer from Shane Wright right before the break.
“I think it was [Brandt] Clarke who brought it up the ice there, and he made a move on the D then curled back” recalled Wright after the game. “He dropped it to [Brennan] Othmann, I just found some open ice, Othmann made a nice pass, I had a wide-open net and just finished it off”.
The second period continued with the same mix of equal parts high end skill and truculent intensity. Red Wings underager Adam Fantilli came out of the intermission embodying this dual spirit, laying hits and spearheading the offence for Team Clark-Weaver-Corson. Playing a year up as as well, Wright had high praise for his fellow 2004-born teammate.
“Obviously he’s an unbelievable player so having the chance to play with them is a great experience for me” echoed Wright, saying he is a great kid and friend of his off the ice as well. Them, along with Vaughan Kings defensemen Lane Hinkley of Team Graves-Primeau-Tucker, comprised the largest group of underagers playing in one Top Prospects Game.
Yet, all the efforts of Wright, Fantilli and company would not culminate in a tying marker. Instead, the dynamic Toronto Young Nationals duo of Josh Bloom and Ryan Del Monte would go to work, exercising a seamless give and go before Del Monte went top shelf, giving Team Graves-Primeau-Tucker a 3-1 lead going into the final period.
Team Clark-Weaver-Corson had 20 minutes to answer the bell, and that they did. Ferocious forechecking by Red Wings forwards Francesco Pinelli and Del Bel Belluz opened the ice in the offensive zone. Although Nats goaltender Samuel Moncada dazzled with amazing acrobats and cross-crease saves, he could stymy Brennan Othmann’s rebound goal off a Del Bel Belluz shot. Then, with seconds remaining and the net empty, a scrum ensued at the goal mouth. Defenseman Brandt Clarke of Team Clark-Weaver-Corson managed to evade the blue-ice wreckage and tie the game, sending it to overtime. The infamous two goal lead in hockey was lost yet again, but coach celebrity coach Wayne Primeau wasn’t worried.
“The saying is, the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, but usually thats early in the game, not in the third period” said Primeau. “But you know what, it made for an exciting game and I think that it was great for the crowd”.
An exciting game gave way to a memorable overtime. Both teams exchanged chances in frenetic 3-on-3 action, before Del Monte linked up with another Nats teammate, this time Zachary Dean, winning the game for Team Graves-Primeau-Tucker, and cementing his name in Top Prospects Game lore.
“I gave it to Deaner there, he just went wide and I skated as fast I could to the net, I didn’t care if I ran the goalie over I just wanted to bury that and it felt so good putting that top shelf there and the boys just ran me over” said an elated Del Monte, post-win.
Del Monte’s two goal performance earned him MVP honors, along with Wright, who displayed his wealth of talents all night.
Asked about the feelings going into the game, Del Monte admitted he was nervous, wanting to perform well in front of the fans. After scoring the first and then the game winner, he summed up his emotions of the night, and the event in general.
“Just the best feeling ever”.