The final game of the 2015 World Junior A Challenge tournament took place on Saturday afternoon, with Canada West narrowly edging out Russia by a score of 2-1 to win the gold medal in Cobourg, Ontario.
Russia, using a team development team similar to what the United States uses to train their young stars, came into the game knowing that they’d have to shut down the likes of Tyson Jost and Liam Finlay, two of the stronger offensive players throughout the tournament. Jost, a potential top 15 pick in the NHL Draft this year, entered the contest tied for first in scoring with eight points, with four of them coming against Canada East in the semi-final contest on Thursday.
Even though Russia had their scoring stars like Mikhail Maltsev and German Rubtsov, the team knew that Canada was going to give them their toughest competition yet, especially after losing 6-1 in a pre-tournament game last week. Mikhail Berdin knew he would have to put on a strong performance in net for the Russians, and after eight shots in the first 10 minutes alone, he had a very good start to the contest. At the other end, Matthew Murray made easily the top save of the opening frame, with the BCHL goaltender making a huge pad save on a German Rubtsov chance with about six minutes left in the period.
The second period featured much of the same, with neither team finding a way to find a way to get the puck in the back of the net. Both Murray and Berdin were making cases to be named the player of the game for their respective countries, stopping 17 and 21 shots respectively after 40 minutes of play. Canada’s best chance of the second came early in the period when Cale Makar, arguably Canada’s best skater early on, took the puck in all alone while shorthanded, only to hit the post.
The Russians had a tournament to remember, but an embarrassing goal against at the 2:13 minute mark of the third period meant that their efforts would go to waste. After the Russians were able to win a faceoff to the left of Berdin, Aleksandr Iakovenko took the puck behind the net. In what was easily the biggest blooper in the entire tournament, Iakovenko created a horrible turnover when he passed it off the boards, landing right on the stick of Canada’s Bobby McMann. McMann would not make a mistake on the play, tapping in the puck on an empty cage to give Canada the 1-0 lead off of one of the easiest goals scored in the entire tournament.
It would have been a terrible way for the Russians to lose the game, but a second goal with three minutes left helped seal the deal for Canada. Jost and Finlay would both take a whack at the bouncing puck in front of Berdin, but it would be Finlay who would touch the puck last to make it 2-0 Canada.
With 30 seconds left, the fans in Cobourg were already beginning to start the celebrations. For a second, though, it looked a little premature. With time ticking off the clock, Rubstov made a tremendous pass from behind the net to Kirill Slepets, who fired home the quick shot to give Canada a late scare. Russia’s attempt at a comeback came just a little too late, however, as Jost’s tournament-leading ninth point of the tournament was good enough to cap off the 2-1 victory and secure the gold medal at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge.
Canada West’s gold medal was good enough to give the team their fourth tournament title in the ten-year history of the tournament. The other six championships have gone to the Americans, who won every game they participated in from 2012-2014 to give them three straight championships.
2015 has proven to be a good year for Canada in the hockey department. The current top-ranked team in the IIHF men’s hockey rankings, Canada has won gold at the World Juniors, World Championships, Inline Worlds, Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, Sledge Hockey World’s, World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and now the World Junior A Challenge. Canada still has a chance to win a gold at the 2015 Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, the final major international tournament of the year for the country.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.