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Golden Bears 4, Oiler Wannabes 3

Hockey generations
Hockey generations

This was the multi-generational scene at Clare Drake Arena during the second intermission last night, with youngsters collecting autographs from a row of young Oiler hopefuls. Against the back wall sit the brain trust of the Oilers organization, from L-R Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, Kevin Prendergast, Tom Renney, Pat Quinn. (Sorry for the terrible quality of the cell phone picture.)

Unfortunately for the assembled masses, the two guys in dark suits near the centre of the photo are none other than Jordan Eberle and Alex Plante, the only two first-round draft choices on the Oiler "Rookies" squad they came to see. Both were late scratches due to minor injuries, robbing the annual showcase of much of its appeal.

It was merely a full house at Clare Drake last night, but the place wasn't stuffed to the gills as it has been in previous years. Presumably this was some combination of the competition (Eskimos-Stampeders game ... don't get me started), that it was the second Wannabe game in 24 hours (the announced crowd in Leduc was 1600), and the availability of on-line streaming video of the game.

I took my favourite seat in the top row of the SW corner of Clare Drake, which the Bears attack for two periods. Poring over the rosters I calculated the average ages, 23 for the Bears vs. just 20 for the prospects. Besides no first- or second-round draft picks in the lineup, the Wannabes had just two college grads, Jamie Bates and R.J. Anderson, the only players older than 21. I figured they were in pretty deep ...

First period was close, score 1-1, shots 12-11, and a good kerfuffle at the buzzer promising better things to come. After that, however, the ice tilted in favour of the home team, who laid on some heavy hits in the second and outshot the pro prospects 14-4, then 16-8 in the third (including at least 8-1 down the stretch). The Wannabes rode some hot goaltending and a couple of opportunistic goals to a 3-1 lead with 10 minutes left before wilting under the pressure and running into penalty trouble with 3 straight minors. The Bears converted the last two of these, knotting the count at 3-3 with 3 minutes left. They continued to pour it on, eventually forcing a bad turnover which resulted in a point shot, a scramble in front, another puck battle won by a gold shirt, and a puck that squirted over the line with 1:06 to play.

A few individual observations:

#23 Philippe Cornet: Smart, slippery, and subtle. Soft hands, but will need to learn to be harder on the puck. Made a fine breakout pass to Kytnar to start the rush that led to Gallimore's 1-0 goal.

#29 Johan Motin: Smooth, poised and efficient. Had to double-check the program to confirm the guy is still only 19. First impression was of mobility, but at second blush he's not shy about the physical side of the game either. Mix those two ingredients with a smaller ice surface, stir, and send to Springfield for seasoning. In due course I think we may be seeing more of this guy in Edmonton. 

#30 Olivier Roy: Had a solid first 20 minutes in which he battled a lot of traffic to make some tough stops, but was unable to slam the door down the stretch. Both tying and winning goals were a little on the weak side.

#53 Cameron Abney: A capital-P Project, but I thought I could see what the Oil bird-dogs like about this guy. Decisively won his fight against Vancouver irritant Dusty Collins on Thursday, then got involved in a couple of scrums Friday, notably coming to bat for Derek Hulak who was the victim of a borderline high hit. Looked sharp both nights moving the puck out of his own zone and joining the rush as a trailer. He's a gangly, awkward 18-year-old kid who will need a few years to grow into his body, work on his skating, and refine his game. He's got the size; if he brings the rest of the Stortini skill set -- desire, smarts, team play -- he might be in the picture around 2013 or so.

#55 Jordan Bendfeld: He and his partner Anderson were in trouble much of the night. Lost his composure late in the third when he punched a Bear in a post-whistle melee, and was very fortunate when the ref gave him the benefit of the doubt.  With 1:58 to go in a tie game, that's not the sort of "toughness" that will help any team.

#59 Brent Breitkreuz: Another solid effort including a hard-working goal to stretch the lead to 3-1. Was named the game's first star. I'm a little surprised that he didn't get the invite to main camp after his showing in these two games, but all five Oil Kings invited to rookie camp were left on the outside looking in.

#60 Andrew Perugini: A solid performance stopping 18 of 19 shots. Bears kept trying to beat him on the short side and Perugini wasn't biting.  

#63 Stepan Novotny: Didn't have time to mention the solid game he played in Leduc, including a nifty goal on a high backhand that held up as the game-winner. His line with Breitkreuz and Bates had another decent game against the Bears, although Novotny himself was not as prominent.

#64 Milan Kytnar: Another strong two-way game. Made a nice pass to Gallimore to open the scoring. I love this kid's instincts.

#73 Burke Gallimore: Moved into Eberle's spot on the first line and there was a noticeable drop-off. Did score the first goal, but his weak clearing pass in the late stages led directly to the winning goal.

#75 Jamie Bates: The best of the Wannabes on Friday night, strong on the puck, showed an extra gear with a couple of bursts to the net, solid penalty-killing. A glance at the birth certificate shows the harsh truth that this guy is 8 months older than Zack Stortini. I do think he can help the Falcons.

#82 Jesse Dudas: Big, mobile, and versatile enough to step up from the blueline in Eberle's absence on a makeshift (and overmatched) fourth line with Hulak and Burns. Made a classic hero play to cover for his own brutal gaffe, the sort of save your own skin play I have long referred to as "the Ole Shmyr" in memory of the WHA Oilers' Kaptain who was a master of the art.

#86 R.J. Anderson: After sitting out in Leduc, had a very tough night paired with Bendfeld. The guy who scored exactly 0 goals in 3 of his 4 NCAA seasons did notch a most unlikely goal on a weak backhand that somehow fooled Real Cyr to give the Wannabes the lead late in the second.   

Bottom line:  The Wannabes may have "won" the "tournament" on goal differential, but the better team won this game, as once again maturity and team play got the better of raw talent. The long-running series now stands at 12 wins for the Bears, 10 for the young Oilers.