Canada’s road to the 2016 World Juniors began on Saturday night with an exhibition game against a team of Canadian University all-stars. The CIS selects may have been the underdogs heading into the competition, but that didn’t stop them from coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat some of Canada’s best prospects 5-4 on Saturday.

As expected, the first ten minutes of the game featured two conservative teams just trying to get a feel for each other. In both cases, Canada and CIS had their rosters formed over the past two weeks, and for Canada, many of the stronger players were not in the lineup. That didn’t stop them from finding the back of the net first, however. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the period, 2016 draft option Julien Gauthier forced a turnover beside the All-Stars net before feeding Mitchell Stephens in front. Stephens, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, usually makes no mistake in front of the net, beating Kevin Bailie in front with a wrist shot to give Canada the 1-0 lead.

A few minutes of that, a big push by both teams saw a bunch of goals all of a sudden find the back of the net. First, highly touted prospect Gauthier would get his second point of the night after doing a spin-o-rama in front of the crease before sending it over to Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Travis Dermott, with the defenseman creeping in and firing it past Bailie for the 2-0 lead early in the battle.

But, as Canada would quickly find out, their opponents weren’t ready to back down. Consisting mainly of former OHLers, Eric Locke and Olivier Hinse would surprise Canadian goaltender Mason McDonald with two quick goals back-to-back with over five minutes still left in the period, tying things up at two apiece. It helped give the team a bit of a jump in their step, as the CIS selects team looked much better than the team that challenged Canada last year at Ryerson University in Toronto, with the team only scoring three goals in two games while failing to keep up with Canada’s pace.

The second period didn’t see much action at either end, but, surprisingly, it would be the CIS All-Stars that would have the better start to the game. Featuring a lineup made up of players all around Canadian universities, the all-star team was older, quicker and more experienced than the Canadian World Junior team, despite all the first round NHL draft picks. So when Alex Saulnier scored on a quick shot with under five minutes to go in the second period, it looked like Canada really had a problem on their hands, despite the game not counting for much. A year ago, Canada had no issue taking out the CIS selects, beating a squad exclusively made out of players from Toronto universities 10-3 and 6-0 before going on to win gold at the real tournament a few weeks later.

Just because they found themselves trailing didn’t mean they were ready to go down a goal heading into the intermission. With 1:33 left to go, Philadelphia Flyers prospect Travis Sanheim, who was a late cut a year ago, took a wicked shot from the Canadian blue line, beating Bailie cleanly to knot the game at three. The highlight on the play, however, came from Gauthier once again, who screened the goaltender on the play to help his team tie things up. Gauthier, one of the underdogs heading into camp, was easily having the best game of any Canadian forward, making Team Canada’s camp decisions just a little harder heading into the home stretch.

With seven minutes off the clock, Canada once again found themselves trailing to the CIS All-Stars. With Canada down a man due to a penalty, Locke would give the local team the 4-3 lead after taking advantage of poor defensive coverage on the penalty kill by Canada.

Canada didn’t want to head into the tournament losing to a team that isn’t actually taking part in the event, so a goal late in the third had to be in the cards. That’s exactly what would happen, as Anthony Beauvillier would pick up his own rebound after ringing a shot off the post before picking the puck back up and beating Bailie while the goaltender was still down to tie the contest at four with two minutes to go in the game.

With the late goal, the two teams would head to overtime to help settle the score. Unfortunately for Canada, a late period penalty meant that Canada would have to skate with three men for the first two minutes. Canada did a good job of keeping the shots away from the crease, which is a big reason why the overtime would see no one find the back of the net. As a result, the game would require a shootout, and the only goal of the skills competition would come from university star Spencer Abraham who absolutely dangled Mason McDonald for the game-winning goal, securing the surprising 5-4 victory for the CIS All-Stars.

The two teams will compete for the second straight game with a 12:00 pm EST puck drop at the Mastercard Centre in Toronto. Canada’s next wave of cuts are expected to come shortly afterwards, with the team having to submit their 23-man roster by Christmas.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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