Thursday, January 20, 2005

January 20 2005 at 4:23 PM
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Response to Wednesday, January 19, 2005 - Drazenovic

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sidney who? Brule steals the show

by JIM SWANSON Citizen Sports Editor

VANCOUVER � The biggest hockey game of the season in Vancouver did not involve the Canucks.

It did include Nick Drazenovic. And, boy, did he ever play a part, showing a legion of NHL scouts that he's worthy of being a future entry draft selection.

The Prince George Cougars centre was plus-3 with a goal and an assist in helping Team Cherry, coached by Don Cherry, to an 8-4 victory over Team Davidson, led by ex-NHL goalie John Davidson, in Wednesday's CHL Top Prospects Game at Pacific Coliseum.

"It's finally over, but I wish it would keep going," said Drazenovic, who parked himself in front of the net and tipped a third-period point shot for the goal. (The official scorer gave it to Portland Winter Hawks defenceman Brendan Mikkelson, but Drazenovic � who did not lobby for a scoring change � confirmed following the game that he redirected the puck.)

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think I showed the scouts I can play, and I played the way I can play. I need to be more consistent, do that more often, and that's part of maturing."

Drazenovic earned his assist 68 seconds into the middle period, taking the puck over the Team Davidson blueline and delivering a perfect pass to Vancouver Giants centre Gilbert Brule, who easily found space on the glove side.

Drazenovic, who was interviewed by Sportsnet during the second intermission, then had a perfect view of Brule's second goal of the game, an unassisted marker. The Brule-Drazenovic combination was one that was requested by Brule, who became the game's marquee player when consensus No. 1 pick Sidney Crosby decided not to attend.

"He asked for us to play together, and it worked out well," said Drazenovic.

"Me and Gilbert have played together before, he's a great player. I figure I see the ice quite well, and he gets wide open and makes it look easy for his linemates. Gilbert's ahead of me in developing right now, but he's the guy I want to catch."

Brule and Drazenovic have played together on Best Ever and under-17 teams, and know each other well.

"I played with Nick growing up, in the summer, and I love playing with him � he's a good player," said Brule, the leading scorer in the WHL.

On his first shift, skating on a line with Brule and Chris Lawrence of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Drazenovic intercepted a pass inside the Team Davidson zone and nearly set up a scoring chance. Over the course of the game, Drazenovic created at least five turnovers for his line in the offensive zone.

We'll now have to wait to see if Drazenovic's performance will improve his standing with the NHL Central Scouting rankings that currently have him at No. 43 � well behind Brule, who is listed sixth.

Wednesday's scoring opened with a goalie's worst nightmare - a pillowy-soft floater by Team Cherry's Guillaume Latendresse that netminder Alexandre Vincent, who plays for Chicoutimi in the QMJHL, missed with his glove hand.

With 33 seconds to play in the first period, Team Cherry took a 2-0 lead on a power-play goal by Marek Zagrapan, who shovelled a puck past Vincent, his Chicoutimi teammate. But Team Davidson answered on a goal by Moose Jaw's Kenndal McArdle, who picked up a rebound off the back boards and slipped the puck behind Williams Lake product Carey Price.

After Brule's two goals extended the Team Cherry lead in the second period, Alex Bourret completed a back-door pass from the OHL's top draft prospect, Benoit Pouliot of the Sudbury Wolves, to make it 5-1 Team Cherry.

That led to the second weak goal of the night as McArdle picked up another goal by directing a soft shot at the Team Cherry net. The puck trickled through the legs of Jean Philippe Levasseur, a 17-year-old from Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL.

Team Davidson made it 5-3 in the first minute of the third period on a goal by Saskatoon's Devin Setoguchi, but Team Cherry regained a three-goal lead when Brendan Mikkelson's long shot was tipped by Drazenovic and through the legs of Team Davidson's second goaltender, Daren Machesney of the Brampton Battalion.

"Mikkelson worked hard, he's a good guy, and he deserved a goal, too," said the gracious Drazenovic.

Team Cherry forward Radek Smolenak, a Kingston Frontenac who played in the game as an injury replacement, and Team Davidson's Viatcheslav Trukhno, a member of the QMJHL's PEI Rockets, traded late goals before Brule potted his third into an empty net.

"(Brule) had a lot of pressure on him with (Crosby) not coming," said the bombastic Cherry, showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 71. "He came through... he won't be (ranked) No. 6 after this game. I don't know what those guys are smoking."

NOTES: It couldn't have been scripted better. Brule, who finished with four points, was named player-of-the-game for Team Cherry, while McArdle earned the honour for Team Davidson. Brule, the captain of Team Cherry, is from North Vancouver, McArdle from Burnaby... Price stopped nine of 10 shots he faced.

.. Team Davidson captain Bobby Ryan (Owen Sound, OHL) was knocked out of the game in the first period when he suffered a shoulder injury. He's expected to be out for two weeks... Announced attendance was 16,331, a sell-out.

�Copyright 2005 Prince George Citizen

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