To the casual hockey fan, the Top Prospects Game might seem like an all-star game, where the biggest names in the sport participate in a non-contact exhibition.
In fact, it’s anything but.
For the past two decades, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) has brought the best draft-eligible players together for one showcase game, featuring the top 40 prospects playing with and against each other.
The Vancouver Giants will host the 21st annual BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game tomorrow (Thursday) at 6 p.m. at the Pacific Coliseum. It’s the second time the Giants have hosted the event, which features players from the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League competing before numerous NHL scouts.
One member of the Giants, forward Tyler Benson,was recently named one of the two captains for the game. But the Edmonton native, who has eight goals and 26 points in 28 games played after missing much of the first two months of the season with an undisclosed injury, will now miss the game.
“It’s been a bit frustrating this season. It’s my draft year, and I had to deal with the surgery,” Benson said last week. “But I hope to be 100 per cent for the game.”
Benson is again on the injury list and will be replaced by teammate Ty Ronning, an 18 year-old from Burnaby who has netted 26 goals and 41 points in 45 games played.
Hockey Night in Canada legend Don Cherry and National Hockey League (NHL) Hall of Famer Bobby Orr are the guest coaches for the game. Benson will captain Team Cherry.
This will be the 16th time in the past 21 years Cherry has been behind the bench at a Top Prospects game, and he recalled how quickly his impression of the game changed once he got involved.
“My first thought was this would be an all-star game, like it is in the NHL,” he said. “But when I first walked into a room, I thought ‘Holy smoke, these guys are ready. This is no all-star game.’
“The kids took it seriously, because there were 200 scouts in the building.”
Everyone selected will get a regular shift throughout the game, Cherry promised.
“We just put them out there. You can’t start favoring one guy over another, or someone else will get short-changed. You put the lines out there, and you give them some encouragement.”
The Giants will resume their Western Hockey League schedule immediately after the Top Prospects Game, hoping to end a slide which has seen them lose six of their past seven games.
They visit the Kamloops Blazers Friday night, before hosting the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Pacific Coliseum.
The Giants ended a four-game losing streak last Friday, defeating the Medicine Hat Tigers 4-1 at the Pacific Coliseum.
Chase Lang gave the Giants a 1-0 lead after one period, netting his 17th goal of the season seven minutes into the game. The Tigers drew even with a powerplay tally in the second frame, sending the teams into the third tied 1-1.
The Giants responded with three unanswered goals for the win. David Brumm notched a pair, including the winner, with Ben Thomas adding one.
Surrey native Trevor Cox, acquired by the Giants from Medicine Hat early this season, played in his 300th WHL game and had a pair of assists against his former team.
Ryan Kubic was in the Giants goal, stopping 28 shots. Vancouver outshot Medicine Hat 30-29.
The Giants traveled to the provincial capital for two games against the Victoria Royals, and were swept, losing 8-0 Saturday night and 4-1 Sunday afternoon.
Victoria outshot Vancouver 30-27, and led 1-0 and 4-0 at the period breaks Saturday. Jake Morrisey made his third start of the season for the Giants, making 22 saves.
Sunday afternoon, Kubic was back in the Vancouver goal, but the Giants again struggled to keep pace with the Royals. Outshot 45-28, Vancouver trailed 4-0 after one period and were down 5-0 late in the game when Brennan Menell scored his fifth of the season with 96 seconds left to play.
The Giants have dropped to 18-27-5 (win-loss overtime loss) on the season, and are now eight points away from a playoff position.