Canada and Russia took to the ice for a World Junior showcase event on Monday, and after a bit of a slow start, the hometown Canadians would finish off with a 4-1 victory against their storied rivals.
In an effort to help prepare for the World Junior Hockey Championships, Hockey Canada hosted a three team event against the Russians and the Czech Republic to help determine the best players before the main U20 event in December. The first matchup saw a team featuring 20 Canadian hopefuls (out of the 40 that will play in Calgary) saw their Russian rivals in the first game of the mini-tournament.
Russia has never been known for their outstanding defense, and the Canadians battled hard to get a few chances early on. Perhaps the best chance came with just 3:30 off the clock, when a pass from returning defenseman Joe Hicketts made it’s way on to the stick of John Quenneville, who couldn’t tip the puck past Maxim Tretiak. The Russians made them pay at the other end of the ice shortly after, and with under five minutes off the clock, the visiting team in red would snag the 1-0 lead. Just one of four Canadian Hockey League players participating for the Russians, Damir Sharipzyanov would skate in and score a weak one through McDonald from far out to make it 1-0.
Canada wouldn’t end the period without potting one in the net themselves. With 11:04 completed in the first, Mitch Stephens took a pass from Quenneville on the doorstep before tapping it in the Russian net for the 1-1 goal. Stephens was consistently one of the better two-way forwards for Canada at the Under-18 tournament in April, finishing seventh in tournament scoring after potting 10 points in seven games en route to a bronze medal.
Canada didn’t like the idea of trailing, so a goal early in the second gave them a bit more jolt in their step. Just 41 seconds into the second frame, Mitch Marner made a beautiful pass after crossing through the offensive zone, finding Hicketts in the slot for the 2-1 goal. For Marner, the consensus was that the future Toronto Maple Leafs forward was one of the best players throughout the game, and the pass was no different.
Canad would run into a bit of trouble shortly after. First, Jared McCann would miss the rest of the game after getting hit hard up high following a neutral zone suicide pass. Shortly after that, Spencer Watson would find his goal to be no good after Lawson Crouse was found to be inside the crease, a violation that is not allowed by the IIHF.
Watson would make up for that at the 6:33 mark of the second. With Semen Afonasyevskiy sitting in the box after a double-minor, Watson would rip a shot off the post and past Tretiak for the 3-1 goal. Watson, a small forward at 5’9, is known for his tremendous scoring ability and should make some noise before the tournament begins in December.
Both teams looked rather tired in the second. With both Russia and Canada getting put together just recently, and having the game in the middle of the summer, it was clear that the players weren’t 100% into full hockey mode just yet. In fact, it was a rather safe third period, with none of the participants wanting to show any glaring weaknesses early on. Canada specifically found themselves in a hole due to the loss of McCann, putting them down to just 17 skaters for the rest of the contest.
With 2:52 left in the game, Dylan Strome would find the back of the net. Michael Dal Colle, a late cut from the team a year ago, made a very solid pass just after crossing by the blueline. Strome got a hold of it near the right faceoff circle and would skate in with a lot of momentum, ripping the shot past the red-hot Tretiak for the three goal lead. It was the final one for Canada, who would hold on for the 4-1 victory on Monday evening.
Canada will hit the ice for their second game of the tournament at 7:30pm EST. Using a totally different roster from tonight, the boys in red and white will meet up with the Czech Republic for their first of two meetings of the tournament on Tuesday.
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