Luck not on Cherry’s side at Top Prospects Game

Don Cherry and Bobby Orr discuss yet another Team Orr victory at the CHL Top Prospects game.

VANCOUVER—A day before the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Team Cherry captain Jakob Chychrun admitted that his coach wasn’t taking the event so lightly. “He wants to win,” explained Chychrun.

If Don Cherry was taking the all-star game a little more seriously than Chychrun and his teammates might have expected, it may have been because the 81-year-old had lost five games in a row to Team Orr.

Not that there was all that much Cherry could do to steer his fate. He and Bobby Orr don’t select the teams, and the group’s time together is limited. It comes down to luck, then—and on Wednesday night, Cherry still wasn’t getting any of it.

Although Cherry’s team got on the board first—thanks to Vancouver Giants right-winger Ty Ronning, a late replacement for the injured Tyler Benson—he wound up losing his sixth straight prospects game, 3–2.

“Well, we had a good crowd there tonight,” said Cherry when asked what he thought of the game, noting that he figured the effort shown by the players had pleased the fans.

The reason for the loss, Cherry claimed, was fairly simple: “Their power play worked and ours didn’t.”

Probably the biggest difference-makers were Pascal Laberge of the Victoriaville Tigres and Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Both youngsters from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League donned Team Orr sweaters, and both had huge games: Laberge scored twice and earned an assist, while Dubois scored once and earned two assists.

If luck hasn’t been on Cherry’s side in recent times—at least as far as the Top Prospects game is concerned—it hasn’t been on Laberge’s either. The 17-year-old from Chateauguay, Que., broke his hand twice this season and has played just 36 games for the Tigres. “I hope I opened some eyes,” said Laberge, who was ranked 31st on the NHL Central Scouting midterm report.

While Team Orr took the victory, and Laberge the spotlight, there were a few silver linings for Team Cherry. For one, goalie Evan Fitzpatrick was fantastic. The native of St. John’s, N.L., who plays for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL started for Team Cherry and stopped each of the 17 shots he faced.

Ronning’s goal, meanwhile, gave the hometown fans something extra to celebrate. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” said Ronning—the lowest-ranked of all the players in Vancouver—of scoring in the event. “I tried to turn some heads maybe.”

While Cherry may have poor luck, he at least has his wisdom to fall back on. Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads received Player of the Game honours for Team Cherry for his offensive prowess in the game, and Grapes saw an opening for a proclamation.

“I thought McLeod was unbelievable,” he said after the game. “He’s got a long future—remember I said that—he’s got a long, long future in the National Hockey League. I’m never wrong, as you know.”