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Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon continue rivalry during CHL Top Prospects Game

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon shake hands following the CHL Top Prospects Game (Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian …

HALIFAX — Seth Jones crossed a continent, went into the other guys' house and took their spot on the couch. But he didn't rub it in.

C'est la vie and que sera, que sera in an age when everyone makes way too much of everything when debating the NHL draft, where even the tip-top notch superstars in utero are years away from reaching full potential. The just-the-facts coming out of the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday was that Team Jones, formally known as Team Orr, pitched the first shutout in the event's history over Team MacKinnon, AKA Team Cherry, winning 3-0 before the hometown Halifax Mooseheads star's adoring public.

If only anything was the cut-and-dried. Hockey, a game of bounces, certainly is not. Jones, who in the past two weeks has won a world junior gold medal, been named NHL Central Scouting's top North American draft prospect ahead of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and now come out on top in this showcase, acknowledged as much.

"It was one game — a pretty big game in a lot of people's eyes," said Jones, the Portland Winterhawks star who played a good all-around game and picked up an assist for Team Orr. "They [Drouin and MacKinnon] both played great tonight. It was good for us they didn't score.

"No one likes losing," Jones added. "This is a one-game thing. A bunch of top prospects are put together and you got to develop chemistry quickly."

Of course, it's always easier to break an offensive pattern to create one, especially considering the improvised nature of the Top Prospects Game. The fact of the matter is even though they were shut out, MacKinnon and Drouin, who played with Plymouth Whalers right wing Ryan Hartman (a USA Hockey teammate of Jones, just to make this more complicated) were dangerous.

"I thought we generated a lot of offence," MacKinnon said. "Definitely would like to have a efw of those chances back but I thought it was a pretty up tempo game ... Both sides played hard and I thought it could have gone either way."

Refreshingly, the strong-willed Nova Scotian refused to give in to some prewritten narrative about this being a great example of finding a lesson in a loss. It was one game where the shots did not go in; it just happened to come on national TV. Halifax fans probably won't worship MacKinnon and Drouin any less.

"I don’t think it’s disappointing," MacKinnon said. "We've scored a lot here and obviously we want to score every game to help our team win. It’s tough for sure but at the same time we’ll move on and it’s a great experience to be part of this game.

"Coming in we knew that these goalies [Team Orr's Spencer Martin and Philippe Desrosiers] would be very strong," MacKinnon added. "And I thought our goalies [his Mooseheads teammate Zachary Fucale and Team Cherry mate Tristan Jarry] played very well. It could have gone both ways and hats off to the goalies."

After MacKinnon was done with the media ramble, Team Cherry namesake Don Cherry pulled Nate the Skate in close for a pep talk. The Cole Harbour, N.S., native relaxed and smiled as the TV icon whispered words of encouragement. Every top-end player has a night where the bounces just don't go his way.

"They were really siccing around him [MacKinnon]," Cherry said in the post-game media conference. "But you can see the moves he was making, they were fantastic."

So score this round for Jones, but remember it was only one exhibition game on one day. The Top Prospects Game tends to be choppy, which might make it easier for a defenceman to look impressive than a forward. The 6-foot-3½, 205-pound Jones should also be expected to have an edge over MacKinnon in physical maturity, given their 11-month age difference. As hard as MacKinnon works off ice, there is still a difference between being 17 and 18 that is far vaster than the difference between being 24 and 25.

Jones was very prominent in the first period, assisting on Adam Erne's opening goal 3:31 into the contest. He also looked composed and poised in his own zone. He might have been caught in deep once all night. On one occasion, he was behind Team Cherry's net when a puck turned over, but ended up racing back and saved the sequence by keeping it in the offensive zone.

"When the puck was on my stick I was able to make a play most of the time and get the puck to my forwards," Jones said. "I was able to jump in the play and play a little offence."

Meantime, the big takeaway from the night was not to read too much into the end results. Martin, who was superb with 16 saves, knew what he was in the presence of every time Nos. 22 and 27 (MacKinnon and Drouin) were out for Team Orr.

"Some people might say, 'oh, they didn't get on the scoresheet' but every time they were on the ice it was dangerous for a goalie," Martin said. "They move the puck so quick and they know each other so well. Credit to my team for shutting them down.

"They remind me a little of [the Niagara IceDogs' Brett] Ritchie and [Ryan] Strome, maybe," Martin said, referring to a dynamic duo in the OHL composed of two 19-year-olds who are currently attending NHL training camps with the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders, respectively.

MacKinnon certainly didn't seem too choked by the outcome, especially since the rule of thumb is that player can only help his stock at Top Prospects but can never hurt it. When it was pointed out to him that his Mooseheads coach Dominque Ducharme, a Team Orr assistant, might have had something to do with suppressing him and Drouin, MacKinnon chirped right back. In a way, that showed he's grounded.

"No, I’m not going to give that to him," MacKinnon said of his coach. "No, I can’t give that to him."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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