WHL goaltending helps Team White score 2023 Kubota CHL / NHL Top Prospects Game victory

Three third-period goals helped propel Team White to a 4-2 victory at the 2023 Kubota CHL / NHL Top Prospects Game Wednesday in front of more than 5,200 fans at the Langley Events Centre.

Seattle Thunderbirds netminder Scott Ratzlaff held down the fort with 24 saves for Team White in the first half of the contest, while Prince George Cougars forward Riley Heidt was named the Player of the Game for Team Red.

It was Team Red who opened the scoring 3:25 into the first period, when Halifax forward Matthew Cataford converted after a setup from Seattle Thunderbirds winger Nico Myatovic.

The lead was short-lived, however; Team White evened the contest three minutes later when captain Colby Barlow (Owen Sound) cashed in from in tight after Moose Jaw Warriors star Brayden Yager pushed the puck toward the net from the right side.

The story of the first half of the contest was goaltending, with starting netminders Scott Ratzlaff and Carson Bjarnason trading stops in quick succession, including a Ratzlaff denial of Red captain Connor Bedard following an end-to-end rush.

Team Red held a 13-12 edge in shots in period one, an edge they would expand to 32-20 through 40 minutes.

Again, it was Ratzlaff who stood tall in the Team White crease, denying Prince George Cougars forward Riley Heidt on a pair of point-blank opportunities including a lacrosse goal attempt near the midpoint of the middle frame.

“I’ve never had the chance to be ‘Michigan-ed’ against, but I kind of just stood up there and tried to cover as much net as possible,” Ratzlaff said following the contest.

“I do it in practice all the time but I’ve never tried to do it in a game, it shocked me a bit when I got it up,” Heidt added.

“[Ratzlaff] made a good save on me, but it was worth a try.”

The exclamation point on Ratzlaff’s performance came with eight and a half minutes remaining in period two, when he thwarted Bedard from in tight after a nifty setup from linemate Zach Benson (Winnipeg ICE).

Team White broke the game open with third-period tallies from Ontario Hockey League forwards Carson Rehkopf, Luca Pinelli and Calum Ritchie, the latter into an empty net before Benson responded for Team Red in the final minute of play.

Overall, Team Red outshot Team White 47-31, with the Team White goaltending tandem of Ratzlaff and Jackson Unger (Moose Jaw Warriors) combining to make 45 stops.

Team White defencemen Lukas Dragicevic (Tri-City Americans) and Tanner Molendyk (Saskatoon Blades) both earned assists, while forward Nate Danielson (Brandon Wheat Kings) assisted on Pinelli’s goal, which stood up as the game-winner.

Heidt and Myatovic both finished the contest with one helper each.

“It was nothing short of amazing,” Heidt said of the experience following the game. “It was a great experience overall, I met a lot of new people, it was awesome.”

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