Hall shows his skill and toughness

BRANDON, Man -- Taylor Hall’s face was a mess: a cut on his forehead, fat welt on his cheek and the remnants of a bloody nose.

The damage was the result after flying face-first into the boards on Friday night after a collision with Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Travis Hamonic.

Windsor Spitfires trainer Joey Garland raced out to the ice to make sure Hall, one of the top-ranked players for the June NHL entry draft, wasn’t seriously hurt.

“I was winded a little bit, so he told me to breathe,” Hall said. “I was bleeding and he told me I was going to need stitches.”

True to from, the star left-winger got up on his own and skated to the bench. No stitches, nothing.

“He’s one of the most durable and flexible guys around,” said teammate Mark Cundari. “A shot like that will sting him but he’ll get right back up – that happened to anyone else they would have been paralyzed.”

He didn’t miss a shift and finished the game with two goals, helping the Spitfires open their MasterCard Memorial Cup title defence with a 9-3 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings in the tournament opener. The hit occurred early in the game, 30 seconds into the first period. With tournament jitters and tension already at a peak from just being at the national event, the last thing teams needed was to have emotions boil over.

“I thought it was going to be violent from there on in,” said Cundari, himself a standout defenceman. “We were able to compose ourselves, but any time you see a star player like that go down, it’s personal.”

But Hall says he initiated the contact with Hamonic and he refuses to apologize for his high-risk, high-reward style of play in dangerous areas. It’s that fearlessness that has resulted in an OHL scoring title (106 points in 57 games), most playoff points in the league (35 in 19 games) and the potential to be the NHL’s top pick.

“You can’t give up and you can’t be soft,” Hall said. “When you go into those corners and when you win those races that’s when you get the pucks and you get points and you get goals and you contribute to your team.”

And while this is par for the course for the 18-year-old, Windsor head coach Bob Boughner rested his star forward for most of the third period while the Spitfires maintained their comfortable lead.

“I’ve seen Taylor take some huge hits over the last couple of years because he’s not afraid to go into the dirty areas and that’s what makes him such a good player,” said Boughner in the post-game press conference. “He’s not a perimeter guy and he bounces back, sometimes he amazes me a little bit that way.”

It’s also amazing then, that Hall admits to having issues with self-confidence on the ice, despite all the points and accolades. He says it’s not until he actually puts those points up on the scoreboard that his self-doubts are erased, a surprising revelation for someone who has lived the majority of his junior career under the spotlight. He’d like to be secure enough to know he’ll contribute to the team, instead of being so anxious about the when.

“As a player when you start a game you should have that confidence already and I think that’s a part of my game I need to improve,” Hall said. “Just right off the bat I need to be the player I am and not worry about whether I’m contributing to the team and just go out there with that confidence.”

Still, others like Cundari – who has played with Hall for the past three seasons – say no matter what Hall might think, he’s still one of the absolute best juniors in the game.

“I’ve seen it all, but he always finds ways to step up his game,” said the St. Louis Blues prospect. “He’s really a student of the game and he picks up on little things that other guys in their right mind would think of doing.”

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