By Max Lewis
Photo by Erin Riley
Given the history of the Scotiabank GTHL Top Prospects Game, the seventh installment of the minor midget showcase had the potential to be one for the books. And boy was it ever.
Team Graves and Team Corson were both stacked with high-end offensive talent, but the goaltenders were front-and-centre in the early going. Alexis Gravel (Mississauga Senators) kept Team Graves in the game early on, as Team Corson – in their dark blue threads – dictated the flow with big hits in the offensive zone, causing turnovers and creating chances.
Gravel kept the game scoreless with several keys saves – highlighted by a scorpion-like stop with his arm – until midway through the period, when teammate Riley Damiani (Mississauga Rebels) opened the scoring. Declan Chisholm (Don Mills Flyers) took a feed from Danil Antropov (Toronto Marlboros) before dropping the puck to Damiani, who took it wide on the defenceman to give Team Graves the early lead.
We have our ice breaker! Riley Damiani opens the scoring with a beauty outside-inside move. 1-0 Graves. #GTHLProspects
— GTHL Hockey (@GTHLHockey) December 16, 2015
Damiani almost got his second goal, were it not for Vaughan Kings goalie Joshua Eisfeld, who slid across to stone him on a point blank at the post.
Team Graves added to their lead when Wyllum Deveaux (Flyers) corralled Dante Fantauzzi’s (Marlboros) point shot as it ricocheted off the back boards to give his club a power-play goal with one minute remaining in the period.
It appeared Team Corson would face a 2-0 hole after the opening frame until a neutral zone turnover by Team Corson cut the deficit in half with 13 seconds left on the clock. The puck ended up on the stick of Luke Moncada (Toronto Red Wings), who whistled a shot over Gravel’s shoulder to pop the water bottle and end any hope of a shutout bid.
The second period began where the first left off, with both teams shaking off early jitters to find chemistry between temporary linemates.
After a number of great chances at both ends of the rink, Ryan Littlejohn restored Team Graves’ two-goal lead at the 12-minute mark off a feed from Damiani – his Rebels teammate. Flyers forward Tyler Weiss also notched an assist on the play after some great work down low.
As they did in the first period, Team Corson stormed back and had a shot labeled for the bottom corner before Gravel made another acrobatic glove save.
A power-play opportunity soon after the goaltender switch was the perfect opportunity for Team Corson to test new netminder Christian Purboo (Rebels). Liam Foudy (Markham Majors) ended up with the puck after it worked its way around the horn before dishing to Travis Mailhot (Red Wings), who straddled the blue and unleashed a rocket past a screened Purboo to put Team Corson back within one.
The teams carried the 3-2 score into the third period, which had the atmosphere of a Game 7 playoff matchup. Neither team was ready to give an inch until it appeared Team Graves had conceded the tying goal midway through the frame. Foudy found a streaking Jesse Tucker (Toronto Titans) in close, but the referee immediately waved off the goal due to a distinct kicking motion.
Team Graves battened down the hatches after that, laying hits, blocking shots and clearing every puck they could. Team Corson pressed for the equalizer, led by the Toronto Jr. Canadiens Russian troika of Kiril Nizhnikov, Sergey Popov and Jackson Alexeev.
Strong play by Purboo and defencemen Peter Stratis (Rebels), Roman Semin (Senators) and Kevin Bahl (Marlboros) helped preserve Team Graves’ one-goal lead until Team Corson pulled goaltender Christian Mattiace (Jr. Canadiens) late in the frame.
With one last gasp, the dynamic defensive pair of Ryan Merkley (Jr. Canadiens) and Giovanni Vallati (Kings) helped Team Corson get shots through but Deveaux scored his second goal into an empty net to seal the 4-2 victory.
Before the game, players and fans held a moment of silence for longtime Jr. Canadiens coach Tyler Cragg who passed away last week. A No. 71 jersey was placed at centre ice in remembrance of Cragg, who served behind the bench in the second edition of the Top Prospects Game, and the MVP awards were renamed in his honour.
Gravel earned Team Graves MVP, while Mailhot (1-1—2) picked up the award for Team Corson.
— Toronto Jr Canadiens (@JrCanadiensAAA) December 16, 2015
Check out Don Cherry’s shoutout starting around the 1:35 mark: