For the first time in a while a group of teenagers looking to make it to the NHL, got to just be teenagers and have a fun time playing the game they love.
The 2017 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game provided an opportunity for USA Hockey to show off its best up and coming talent, and a low-pressure game for the kids who played to relax a bit.
The teams were coached by Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Brain Leetch and Chris Chelios.
Both coaches said afterward they wanted each of their players to have a good time and enjoy the atmosphere.
“We told the players that were not trying to win Game 1 of a seven-game series,” Leetch said. “This is a showcase for them to go out and show their ability. It showed you the skill level they have.”
For Chelios it reminded him of the way the game was played when he grew up.
“It was like watching 1980’s hockey with no structure. That’s the way it should be in the prospects game,” Chelios said. “The kids were really loose out there. It was fun.”
Team Leetch forward Ryan Savage had two goals in the game. Savage, son of former NHL player Brian Savage, was born in Montreal but moved to Arizona at six months old. He recently changed his citizenship to the United States. Playing in All-American Prospects game was just one of its perks.
Savage had an enjoyable experience.
“It’s a huge honor to go out there and represent your country,” Savage said. “I thought I shot the puck well and made a few plays and had a pretty good game tonight. I was out there having fun trying to do what I do best.”
After giving three straight goals to tie the game in the third period, Brady Tkachuck saved the day for Team Leetch, firing a shot in on the short side to score the game-winning goal in their 6-5 victory over Team Chelios Thursday night at the Key Bank Center.
Team Leetch had dominated the first five minutes of play, and it finally paid off when Illinois natives Jack Randi and Jake Pivonka connected for the game first goal. Randi fit a pass between an array of sticks to get the striding Pivonka, who scored from a few feet in front of the net.
Pivonka is a first-born generation American hockey player with a familial NHL connection. His father Michael Pivonka was selected in the third round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He had 418 assists and 599 points in a 13-year career with the Washington Capitals.
After the goal, Team Chelios picked up their game.
Chelios’ forward Paul Cotter made a head ups play as he grabbed the loose puck in the corner and took it straight to the net to tie it with less than five minutes left in the opening period.
The action picked up in the second period as Team Leetch took back the lead.
Defense Slava Demin came up from the blue line and sent a pass to an open Ryan Savage just beside the net. Savage took advantage of the open net and put it in.
Chelios got their only goal of the period as forwards Joel Farabee and Oliver Wahlstrom were allowed to pass it back and forth until Wahlstrom scored.
At the halfway point of the period, Tkachuk sent a pass across to Blake McLaughlin for a goal.
Tkachuk is the son of Keith Tkachuk and brother of 2016 sixth overall pick Matthew Tkachuk.
Savage picked up his second goal of the game as fired it top self to give his team the 4-2 lead at the second intermission.
The third period jolted into action as the two sides went back fourth with three goals in a little more than a minute.
Randi got his second point of the game, as the puck rebounded to him off a backhand shot from Jordan Harris. Forward Jack Jensen picked up steam assisting on both Jay O’Brien and Jack Perbix goals for Team Chelios bring them to within one.
K’Andre Miller found Texas native Ryan O’Reilly in the slot to tie the game with 15 minutes left in the third period.
Not only have the Buffalo Sabres hosted four out of the six All-American Prospect games, they have drawn from those who have participated. Head coach Phil Housley coached in the inaugural game back in 2012. Current Sabre Jack Eichel and 2017 first round pick Casey Mittlestadt won the MVP award when they played in the All-American game.
Housley presented the award to Tkchuck for his two points Thursday night.