Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Lisa Brown on 08/07/11 at 04:09 PM ET
“Today is the best day of my life!” Proclaimed Noah, a young Edmonton Journal contest winner. His prize, a chance to watch the Team Canada U20 game from the pressbox, a behind the scenes tour and memories to last a lifetime. “We got to meet Ryan Smyth!” The contest winner, with his youthful smile and energy went on. There were two winners of this contest, and thankfully only one broke my heart when he told me that he was not an Oilers fan. The list of teams he does cheer for was long, and one team pains me too much to even type. Each winner was dressed in a team Canada hockey sweater signed by the players at this camp, one red and the other white.These of course were far from the only youths in attendance at this event and it is wonderful to see so many who still dream of playing hockey at it’s highest levels and not for the contracts, but for the sheer love of the game.
The number of fans in attendance was quite surprising on some levels, but not all. This is August, and the same weekend of the ever popular Edmonton Folk Festival; families had more than one option on where to spend their time and money. The lower bowl was filled to capacity along with most of the luxury boxes. The fans continued to fill the building, moving into the second bowl and filling nearly half of it. It seemed that many hockey fans decided that this opportunity was one too good to be passed up. For Oilers fans in particular, any opportunity to build upon their feelings of hope for the future far outweighed the $14 price of admission.
My friend Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal’s Cult of Hockey kept a live blog of the game. This was not the easiest of tasks since several players were wearing different numbers than they had been during the morning skates, and we were now much farther from the ice. Bruce did an excellent job. Bruce has also compiled a nice photo journal of the game.
As the lights dimmed and the teams skated to centre ice, the fans roared for local player Tyler Bunz and of course for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There were cheers for every player named, but there were clearly fan favourites. The noise levels reached new highs as it was announced that Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth would be the one to drop the puck for the ceremonial puck drop.
There was a public scrimmage earlier in the week, but I was unable to attend. As such, I had very little idea what to expect from this game. In all honesty, I was expecting little more than a scrimmage much like an all star game. Those thoughts were soon proven to be incorrect as the players from each team threw hits drawing “oohs” from the crowd. Devante Smith-Pelly made one particularly hard hit on Dillon Simpson, this was one of the first plays by Smith-Pelly to draw attention to himself but certainly not the last.
As the first period progressed with little scoring, the crowd quieted down and must have been planning their snack options for the intermission. With approximately 90s left in the first period, team Red struck first. The power play goal by Jamie Oleksiak was quickly answered by Christian Thomas of team White. Shots were fairly even 12-10 for team team White with a quarter of team white’s shots coming from right winger Smith-Pelly.
The second period had even more hits, more penalties and only one more goal. Jonathan Huberdeau gave team Red the 2-1 lead shortly into the second period. Tyler Bunz of team white stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced but because this is still an exhibition game, halfway through the period there was a changing of the guards. Louis Domingue stood in net for Red and Scott Wedgewood for White as the second half of the game commenced. Shots were quite one sided through the second period 20-12 for team Red with Huberdeau making a good impression along with Smith-Pelly.
As the puck dropped for the third period, I began to wonder if something was amiss with young Nugent-Hopkins. He was on the ice, but he had been kept off the scoring sheet and likely from the highlight reel through most of the game. Clearly the coaching staff saw exactly what most of us were seeing, and there was a line change for Nugent-Hopkins.
Team Red was soon on the scoreboard again thanks to Mark Stone and a power play goal Red led White 3-1. Less than two minutes later, Stone added to his team’s lead. With a score of 4-1 and just under 17 minutes remaining in the third period, it seemed as though team White could not recover from this deficit.
Smith-Pelly continued to be the hyphenated name of note as he scored for team White a minute after the end of the game seemed written. That’s what makes a game. This goal was quickly followed by yet another for team White, this one from Quinton Howden.
With three and a half minutes to go, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins delights all in attendance with his very own spinorama goal. The crowd cheered loudly for his goal but roared upon seeing the replay. This was what the crowd had hoped for, this is why they filled the parking lot an hour before the puck would drop. This was the Nugent-Hopkins they had heard and read about.
The game was tied, 4 all and it seemed that it would be a fitting end. That was not to be however. With a mere twenty seconds left in regulation, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scores again and sets the crowd chanting “Nugent-Hopkins.” The chant was music to an Oilers fan’s ears, but will need a little work before it’s ready for regular use. No matter though, team White took the game 5-4.
The two teams participated in a shootout, which was another opportunity for the coaching staff to observe the prospects, and the fans to cheer a few more times.
When the Oilers looked as though they would easily be a lottery team last year, there was reason to watch games in Red Deer. The fans and the WHL off ice officials of Red Deer were among those who would whisper who young Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would remind them of and why. I dare not mention any names, but it is an exciting idea. Once again some comparisons were made. It was said by those who were close to many hockey players in their glory days, that there was another young man that some nights may appear to have been silent but would suddenly come to life and bring the team to a win.
Of course after a game like this, everyone won. Team White, team Red, the fans and all involved held a successful Edmonton Camp. The Edmonton Oilers have made highlights of the game available on their website for any hockey fans who were unable to attend, or who would like to watch them over again. Sunday August 7th, there will be another Red and White game, this one in Fort McMurray at 7pm MST. For those fans who would like to watch this game, it will be made available online for the low low price of free.
Stay tuned for more team Canada and Oilers’ prospect news and interviews.
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