One year ago, Mathew Dumba was watching his Red Deer teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Now it’s his turn.
The star defenceman of the Red Deer Rebels is following in the first-overall pick’s footsteps as one of the headliners in the showcase of the top prospects eligible for the NHL draft. After anxiously watching and recording last year’s festivities — where Nugent-Hopkins’ Team Orr defeated Team Cherry 7-1 — Dumba will be one of 40 prospects looking to leave an impression.
“I guess everyone else looks at it like an all-star game,” Dumba explained. “But it’s going to be real competitive and everyone’s going to have that edge to their game.”
Watch the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Wednesday on Sportsnet with coverage starting at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT. Viewers can log on sportsnet.ca during the game and chat live with Patrick King during the game. You will also have the opportunity to rank the top 10 prospects throughout the game.
The annual battle of the top prospects is far from the game of shinny one might expect to see from an all-star game. While chemistry with their teammates may be touch and go, it’s a much more intense game, as evidenced by the fact it often features at least one fight. Even Steven Stamkos dropped the gloves when it was his turn in 2008.
“I don’t think people truly understand how special a game it is,” said Bruce Hamilton, general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, whose team will host the game. “For the fans, it’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
Much has been made of all the prospects missing in action. From Sarnia forwards Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk to Morgan Rielly and Malcolm Subban, this year’s game is underlined by the walking wounded. Just don’t expect it to lower the level of intensity.
“Our draft has always been the strength of the Canadian Hockey League,” said Ron Robison, commissioner of the Western Hockey League. “We represent over 50 per cent of the (NHL) draft and have been very dominant in recent years, of course, from a CHL standpoint. The reality is it opens the door for some players that are going to get an opportunity and really make an impression.”
Will the physical play resemble league games?
The only star quality to this game is in the format and level of talent of the players. With scouts from each NHL team in attendance and more than 275 registered to attend as of last week, none of the players will be letting the level of intensity drop below a league or playoff game.
“I think it’s going to be really intense,” Dumba said. “Guys are going to be battling hard. I’m expecting a normal game — almost like a playoff atmosphere. Everyone will be going very hard.”
One of the game’s heaviest hitters is the Red Deer defenceman, who’s developed a penchant for tracking forwards with their heads down.
“If the opportunity comes, I think so,” Dumba responded when asked if he could deliver a big check. “I’m not going to pass it up or anything like that, but I’m not going to go out of my way to make this hit or anything.”
Tanner Pearson, who’s familiar with Dumba from Canada’s world junior selection camp in December, will be an adversary in the game. Knowing Dumba’s style, Pearson will be keeping his head up.
“He likes to make those big, open-ice hits and if he has a chance to do that, good for him,” Pearson said. “I just hope it’s not on me.”
Will the offence run wild?
Although there is much more on the line than an all-star game, the one characteristic this game does sometimes adopt is its offence. Since chemistry is being formed in such a quick period of time and tendencies aren’t known throughout the lineup, these games can become track meets.
“It can’t be all offence,” Pearson cautioned. “Everyone wants to show every aspect of their game, whether it’s hitting or scoring. Everyone’s going to do what they can to get the eyes (of the NHL scouts in attendance) on them.”
Team Orr won the skills competition on Tuesday. Both teams are expecting a closer final score than the 7-1 game won by Team Orr at the Air Canada Centre last year.
“It was close,” Pearson said of the skills competition. “I wouldn’t say nobody’s more skilled than anybody else. The teams are pretty equal and there’s lots of skill guys out here.”
Will it be a long night for the goalies?
In a game where the goal light could flicker with reckless abandon, the four goaltenders will look to draw the adoration of the fans in attendance and those watching on television — not to mention the scouts looking on.
But in a game where offence is expected, the goaltenders could be at a disadvantage.
“It’s so much skill and talented players that it’s tough to stop two-on-oh and stuff like that,” explained Team Orr goaltender Francois Tremblay. “There’s a lot of offensive play. I’ll try my best.”
“I think it goes without question … it’s tough for the goalies,” Pearson added. “They don’t know what to expect.”
Who will win the wager?
As is seemingly customary among the celebrity coaches invited to the event, a small wager could be riding on the outcome of the game. Former NHL player Mark Recchi is the head coach of Team Cherry while former NHL coach, Pat Quinn, is the bench boss for Team Orr.
“I’m up for a little wager,” Quinn said during last week’s conference call.
“Absolutely,” Recchi countered. “I’m definitely up for a little wager.”
Recchi’s team will have something to prove after losing the skills competition. If they want to redeem themselves while simultaneously lightening Quinn’s wallet, they’ll need to pull out all the stops.
“They beat us up (in the skills competition) so I guess they have the upper-hand on that,” said Dumba, of Team Cherry. “(The game) is the big one. We have to win that one.”