TORONTO – Connor McDavid may still be the consensus best hockey player on the planet, but on a college rink in late August, his team came up painfully short to BioSteel nemesis Tyler Seguin, who wore the hats of captain, coach and GM.
In about as thrilling a 20-minute game of four-on-four non-contact summertime shinny in a small barn can get, Team Seguin defeated Team Nurse 4-3, marking the fourth time in the past five BioSteel Camps that a Seguin-led squad hoisted the chalice.
Seguin himself opened the scoring for a side that included St. Louis’s Ryan O’Reilly and Robby Fabbri, and Anaheim’s Brandon Montour and jumped to an early 3-0 lead. But Darnell Nurse’s group — which featured Oilers teammate McDavid, Montreal’s Max Domi, and Washington’s Brett Connolly — showed heart with three unanswered tallies.
O’Reilly beat a back-checking McDavid in the crease to snipe the clincher with just 21 ticks left on the St. Michael’s College Arena clock.
Smiling post-victory, Seguin — who drafted his squad, brainstormed lines on his drive in, and adjusted his lines on the fly — was not disappointed with the result.
“Grind. The boys grinded,” Seguin grinned.
“I’m hearing about it now because O’Reilly wasn’t in our draft. I left three spots open because he wasn’t in our draft, then he ends up getting the game-winning goal. What I have to remind the other captain is, I let McDavid go first overall. A couple years ago I let [Taylor Hall] go first overall, so I didn’t take them. They can’t fully get mad at me, but I’ll hear chirps the rest of the afternoon.”
Run by Matt Nichol — one of the hockey’s most respected trainers and co-founder of BioSteel, the pink sports nutrition drink — the friendly, yet intense, four-day pre-NHL-training-camp camp culminated Thursday with a round-robin tournament that pitted the four workout squads (Tom Wilson and Michael Del Zotto led the others) against each other.
“Everybody’s real close,” said Maple Leafs prospect Jordan Subban, a Camp regular. “You can ask anybody questions and they’re happy to give you feedback.”
Bragging rights got real.
Furious that prospect Matt Luff was granted a penalty shot during a sudden-death elimination game, Wilson threw a bottle of the pink stuff at a referee in dispute. Josh Ho-Sang chewed out a linesman over a perceived blown off-side call. We saw animated pleas for a puck-over-glass call and a towel thrown on the ice in frustration.
But the competition ends with autographs for kids and friendly farewells.
Unanimously, the campers decided to change the name of the trophy from the BioSteel Cup to the Ray Emery Cup in honour of the longtime camper and NHL goaltender who died in nearby Hamilton, Ont., on July 15. He was only 35.
“Put everything aside. It doesn’t matter who wins. That being the title of the Cup makes it that much better. He left his mark on all of us,” Seguin said.
“He was a guy you always knew was in the room. He had that demeanour. He was a leader. He was a guy who, at first, I was intimidated by. He kinda game-faced me the first couple times when I was a young rookie.”
Nurse calls “Razor” a special character.
“Always the life of the party, the life of the room, always has a smile on his face,” Nurse said.
“I got to see him at a charity event not long before everything happened, so it’s sad. It’s good we have an opportunity to honour him here. He’s definitely a guy that a lot of guys will miss.”
McDavid describes BioSteel as a chance for the “best players around the city” to prepare together, to push each other — sometimes even harder than the actual club-run training camps. As the camp’s reputation has grown, out-of-towners like Vancouver defenceman Erik Gudbranson travel to Toronto to train under Nichol.
“Guys had fun. I think it’ll take maybe an hour for some guys to get over [the loss], then we’ll all go meet up and say our goodbyes and hang out for the last day and night of the summer, then everyone will go back to work,” Seguin said.
Then, referencing his shrewd O’Reilly pickup, Seguin added this:
“I signed a free agent. I’m just being the best GM I can.”