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USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game: Eichel, Bracco lead Team Grier to victory

Jack Eichel
Jack Eichel
Bruce Bennett

BUFFALO -- Jack Eichel was the player everyone came to see and the Boston University freshman didn't disappoint. His line accounted for six points to help lead Team Grier past Team Olcyzk, 6-3, on Thursday night at the USA Hockey/CCM All-American Prospects Game.

Eichel tallied a goal and dished out an assist while linemate and Boston College recruit Jeremy Bracco found the back of the net twice himself. BU recruit Jordan Greenway, who played on the left wing, used his size and strength to win puck battles and picked up two helpers.

"Eichel's line played well. Greenway made a lot of goals happen. He probably won't get some of the credit, but he did a lot of the dirty work. He does the forechecking and getting the puck out. Bracco was excellent. He's one of those guys that knows how to slow the game down and make things happen," said Team Grier head coach Mike Grier.

Eichel wowed spectators and scouts alike, and each coach came away extremely impressed. Eddie Olczyk, the coach on the opposing bench, spoke of his game in the same sentence as Mario Lemieux.

"The first thing that sticks out is his skating ability. When he's got one hand on the stick, his arm span is like a 747 going up the ice. I haven't seen a player at that level of being up close and personal. I've only seen one guy have a reach and a stick like that and that's Mario [Lemieux]," said Olcyzk.

"His competitive nature," said Grier when asked about what stood out watching Eichel from the bench. "When you see him out here with the other best draft eligible kids, you see the different gear he has that no one else has. He gets through the neutral zone, picks up pucks and plays. It's impressive he can do what no one else out there can do."

The two teams, playing in front of a large number of NHL scouts, skated to a scoreless first period as the teams traded sloppy passes and looked to be shaking off some nerves.

Alec Baer broke the ice at the 5:35 mark of the second period to give Team Grier the first lead of the night. The Vancouver Giants (WHL) forward tipped home a nice feed from Ryan Smith.

Just over a minute later Team Olczyk got on the board on a goal from Michigan commit Brendan Warren. The Carleton, Mich. native retrieved a wide shot from Colin White and brought it back out front before finding the back of the net.

Later in the period Bracco and Karch Bachman scored 1:17 apart to give Team Grier a 3-1 lead. Bracco found himself wide open after the defense collapsed on Eichel, who slipped the puck down to the goal line. Bracco didn't panic and buried a nice shot from a near-impossible angle at the 13:10 mark. Bachman scored a nifty goal off a pass from Baer and Brandon Carlo to complete the quick two-goal burst.

The Baer, Smith and Bachman line, which accounted for two goals on the evening, was given kudos by Grier after the game.

"The Baer-Smith-Bachman line kind of got us going. They're a little bit on the smaller side compared to most guys, but they really use their speed. I thought they were great," explained Grier.

Team Olcyzk pulled within one before the end of the second period on a nice scoring sequence from two future Big Ten rivals. Wisconsin recruit Brock Boeser slipped out towards the goal mouth before sliding a short pass to Minnesota commit Tom Novak who buried it into a virtually wide open net.

"I thought Tommy Novak, Brock Boeser and [Paul] Bittner was one line that really had a good strong game," said head coach Eddie Olcyzk.

The score remained 3-2 until midway through the final period when Eichel broke the game open for the first of three consecutive goals for Team Grier. A potential duo of the future for the Terriers connected at 11:13. Greenway crashed the end boards and quickly shuffled a pass out to Eichel who made a nice finish for the goal that gave Team Grier a 4-2 edge.

Greenway fed a streaking Bracco who broke in alone on goal and made a quick move to beat Team Olcyzk goaltender Ryan Larkin at the 15:38 mark. Connor Moynihan gave Team Grier some added insurance when he buried a pass from Kyle Connor at the 17:14 mark.

Ohio State recruit Tanner Laczynski scored a garbage time goal for Team Olcyzk to make the final score 6-3.

Despite the nine total goals scored in the contest, goaltending was a major story. "I thought all four goaltenders played incredible," said Olcyzk. "They all played extremely well."

Team Grier starter and Wisconsin commit Luke Opilka made 22 saves on 23 shots faced during the first 29:48 of the game. Team Olczyk starter Michael Lackey, a Harvard recruit, matched him save-for-save, stopping 15 of 16.

Miami commit Ryan Larkin gave up five goals on 29 shots, but many of his 24 saves were of high quality. The only uncommitted goaltender in the game, Team Grier's Ryan Bednard, stopped 19 of 21 for the win.

Notes: 7,310 fans came out to watch Thursday's showcase scouting event at the First Niagara Center, the home of the Buffalo Sabres… Speaking of the Sabres, captain Drew Stafford, a former star at North Dakota, presented the Player of the Game trophy to Eichel… The game, the third annual, was shown across North America on the NHL Network… Next year's game will also be played in Buffalo, a city that continues to pour a lot of funds into the game. Right next to the First Niagara Center is a beautiful new complex called the HarborCenter, a multi-rink and entertainment complex that Canisius College's hockey program will call home.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.