EDMONTON, Alta. -- The first full-contact exhibition match of the Canadian National Junior Team development camp was certainly not for the faint of heart.
Then again, the fans who showed up at Rexall Place certainly got when they came for on Saturday when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in June, scored a pair of goals in a span of 3:08 late in the third period to give Team White a thrilling 5-4 victory over Team Red.
Those Oilers' fans chanting "Nugent-Hopkins" in the end are hoping it is a sign of things to come. Nugent-Hopkins struck on a spinorama move in the slot at 16:32 to tie the game before sealing the deal on a rip from the right hash mark at with 20 seconds remaining in the contest.
In the end, the teams combined for 87 shots. For the Red Team, Ottawa Senators prospect Mark Stone connected for two goals and Jamieson Oleksiak and Jonathan Huberdeau had one apiece. In addition to Nugent-Hopkins, Team White was also spurred by 5-foot-11 1/2, 212-pound Devante Smith-Pelly, who was not only a physical force but an offensive threat – scoring a goal and adding an assist. Sean Couturier notched a pair of assists and Christian Thomas and Quinton Howden also scored for the White.
But this game was all about the debut of Nugent-Hopkins in front of his future home fans.
Team Red opened a 4-1 edge 5:01 into the third on a pair of goals by Stone. Team White, coached by Ken Hitchcock, pared the deficit to one when Smith-Pelly swept a shot home at 6:03 and Howden on the power play at 12:08 before Nugent-Hopkins showcased the skill that made him the No. 1 choice in the Entry Draft.
Memorial Cup MVP and Florida Panthers hopeful Huberdeau gave Team Red a 2-1 lead three minutes into the second period when he slipped home a pass from Stone at the left post. Defenseman Brandon Gormley, chosen No. 13 in 2010 by Phoenix, also assisted on the play. The Coyotes actually have four players at the camp -- Gormley, forward Lucas Lessio and goalies Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue.
Team Red opened the scoring on a power-play goal by 6-foot-7, 240-pound Oleksiak late in the first. The Dallas Stars prospect took a pass from Ryan Strome, the New York Islanders’ top pick in June, at the point and took a slap shot that dipped underneath goalie Tyler Bunz, an Edmonton draftee, at 18:31.
Just 30 seconds later, Team White evened the score when Thomas, drafted in the second round by the New York Rangers last year, lofted a shot over goalie while on one knee in the slot at 19:01. Boone Jenner, chosen No. 37 by the Blue Jackets in June, assisted on the goal.
To the delight of the fans in attendance, the first period was chock-full of highlight-reel hits. Leading the charge was Smith-Pelly. Drafted in the second round (No. 42) by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, Smith-Pelly delivered four crushing blows in the opening 20 minutes. His victims included Oleksiak, Erik Gudbranson, Dillon Simpson and Nathan Beaulieu.
Even Couturier, picked No. 8 by the Philadelphia Flyers in June because of his scoring skills, got in on the action, knocking Oleksiak into the boards midway through the period in the left-wing corner while working the forecheck.
Both starting goalies played extremely well under some heavy pressure before both being pulled in favor of the backups at 9:51 of the second. Visentin of Team Red finished with 17 saves and Bunz turned aside 19 shots.
Players and coaching staff will now pack their gear and make the four-plus hour trek to Fort McMurray, Alta., for the second scheduled exhibition game of the camp on Sunday at Casman Centre at 8 p.m. ET.
"These next two games are really important in our evaluation," Team Canada coach Don Hay said. "That scrimmage (on Thursday) was a more like a get-rid-of-the-summertime mentality, and now there's a little more energy. We expect them to play their two best games -- and with that comes competition, and with that comes evaluation. So these games are very important."
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