Date: September 28, 2016

Whale Defeat Team Russia in Pre-Season Opener

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By Andrew Weiss National Women’s Hockey League

The lights shone bright on the ice as the Connecticut Whale were welcomed into their new home in Northford. With the Russian National Team in town, former Quinnipiac stars Kelly Babstock and Cydney Roesler made the homecoming a rousing success, scoring a goal apiece as the Whale stormed back to defeat the Russians 3-2.

The Whale’s goals were scored by Meagan Mangene, Kelly Babstock, and defenseman Cydney Roesler, who potted the game winner with 5:27 left in the third period. Shenae Lundberg stopped 18 in her start, while  Nicole Stock finished with 10 saves in relief, picking up the win. Former Quinnipiac forward Nicole Connery added an assist, totaling three points on the night for former Bobcats. Molly Engstrom also chipped with in two assists. Russia’s goals both came from Liudmila Belyakova in the second period, while Russian goaltender Maria Sorokina made 15 saves in the loss.

Russia started off flying in the first period, outshooting Connecticut six to one after ten minutes of play. However, the speed of the Whale back-checkers prevented any golden chances, with both Ivana Bilic and Haley Skarupa breaking up odd-man situations in the throughout the period.

Playing in their first game of the season, the Whale quickly shook off their rust before Mangene scored the game’s first goal near the end of the period. Engstrom had her first shot attempt blocked before eventually regaining possession on a pass from Shannon Doyle, her defensive partner. Her second shot found the stick of Mangene, who deflected past the outstretched glove of Sorokina.

Her goal was answered by two goals from former Riveter Liudmila Belyakova, both coming in the second period. Belyakova found twine after a pass from Iya Gavrilova found her stick alone in front of Lundberg. The tap in tied the game for Russia, and they continued to pound the Whale net.

Coach Linstad sent Stock in to relieve Lundberg after the first Russian goal, but Belyakova continued to create chances around the Whale net. Stock left a juicy rebound on another Belyakova shot, which the Russian pounced on, putting the puck in the net for a 2-1 Russian lead and her second goal of the game.

The Whale penalty kill held firm in the second, with rookies Nicole Kosta and Connery both making strong cases to remain on special teams. Both rookies also saw time on the Whale’s only power play of the second period, with both shots in the two minutes coming from Connery.

The Whale would battle back in the third period. Kelli Stack and Anna Shibanova received matching minor penalties after some chippy play near the Russian bench. Soon after, the Whale found themselves on the power play as Yekaterina Smolentseva took a tripping penalty just 28 seconds into the four-on-four action.

This time, the advantage proved bountiful for Connecticut, as Babstock struck the back of the net for a power play goal. Both Connery and Engstrom picked up an assist on the goal.

“There was no one in front of me, so I had to shoot it,” said Babstock. “Or else,” she added, after a look from Coach Linstad.

Only 1:40 later, Connecticut took the lead on a goal from Roesler, the first of her professional career. “It’s a goal of mine to contribute more offensively this year than I did in college,” said Roesler. “It was great (because) I just whacked the puck to the net… (Stack’s) rebound came to me.” Her head coach agreed. “We want our (defenders) all the time to jump into the play and be smart about it,” said Linstad. “We established that in the very first practice.”

With only minutes remaining, the Whale refused to let the Russians pull Sorokina. Russia struggled to possess the puck in Connecticut’s zone, and the Whale pressed Sorokina with dump ins and shots until the final buzzer. The game ended with the puck behind Sorokina’s net.

Connecticut went 1-4 on the power play, while Russia went 0-3. The Whale will look to add to their impressive special teams this year after leading the league in both categories last season.

Linstad’s prognosis was certainly optimistic: ““I think we played fairly well. Obviously they had a step on us a little bit because they’ve been playing some games. For our first game I think we did a really good job of dictating play at certain times.”

Eriks Miluns will coach the Latvian U20 national team

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Eriks Miluns will coach the Latvian U20 national team for the remainder of the season after having started with the team and summer and will also be the team’s head coach at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto, Canada, 26 December – 5 January.

His position was formally approved by the board of the Latvian Hockey Federation.

The U20 national team will prepare for the World Juniors with a Four Nations Tournament in Austria, 3-5 November, where it will play Austria, Belarus and Denmark. On 7 and 8 December the Latvians will play two exhibition games against Kazakhstan in Riga before travelling to Canada where more games are planned before the start of the World Juniors.

Latvia will start the tournament in Group B in Toronto with Russia, the United States, Canada and Slovakia as opponents.

Imperfect Canada more than good enough in Game 1

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By Chris Johnston – Sportsnet

In a best-of-three final, this is how Team Canada breaks your heart.

It will start slow and gift you a power play on the opening shift. It will continue to be sluggish, and cough up the puck too often, and open the door of hope ever so slightly. It will deliver its flattest performance in years … and win.

Like the kid who has everything, this group has a way of making all others feel a little bit jealous.

“You’d like things to be perfect every night, but it’s just not real,” said coach Mike Babcock.

What is real is the fact the World Cup is now within reach. Another victory on Thursday will give the country its third straight best-on-best tournament dating back to the 2010 Olympics.

This was as sloppy as we’ve seen Team Canada since the early stages of the Vancouver Games. It hardly mattered.

Coached by Ralph Krueger, the man who assisted Canada in reaching near-perfection in Sochi, Team Europe found a way to disrupt the machine. It forced repeated turnovers during the opening two periods and found itself an unsuccessful Andrej Sekera breakaway from tying the score heading to the third.

The visitors delivered their best.

“We had spurts when we let them outplay us,” acknowledged Canadian defenceman Drew Doughty.

Fortunately, there was Carey Price to cover over the occasional pothole.

A world-class bunch in front of him helped, too, as goals by Brad Marchand and Steven Stamkos both came in transition. Team Canada’s third of the night – which gave it a 3-1 lead at 9:24 of the third period – proved to be a dagger.

First Sidney Crosby almost banked a shot in from behind the goal-line. Then he grabbed the puck, spun off defenceman Mark Streit and slid a backhand pass through Christian Ehrhoff and on to the stick of Patrice Bergeron in the slot.

Imagine being a member of the underdog Team Europe in that moment. You’ve played a great game, got within a whisker of dreaming about an upset and the best player in the world dashes all of those thoughts inside three inspirational seconds.

Crosby now leads the World Cup with nine points in five games, trailed only by linemates Marchand (seven) and Bergeron (six). He’s basically got his hands on the MVP award already.

“I’m not going to say it’s the best hockey he’s ever played because he plays so well in the NHL all the time,” teammate Ryan Getzlaf said of Crosby. “But from when I’ve been playing with him, in the three (previous international) tournaments I’ve had the opportunity, I would say he’s playing unbelievable. Things are working for him now. He’s hot.

“Not that he didn’t play well at the other tournaments, he just didn’t get this hot.”

Team Canada has now reeled off a ridiculous 15 straight victories in best-on-best competition. Even the odd sloppy night is good enough to get by.

So now we’ll spend another day trying to calculate how Team Europe might possibly force a third game in this final series.

On one hand, Krueger’s team should be encouraged. This was its best game of the tournament and the Europeans managed to at least throw a hint of doubt into the outcome.

Despite that, however, they failed to get the job done.

“We’re here to continue to grow and to learn and evolve, and we’re very angry right now, which is a good thing,” said Krueger.

They’ve now had two cracks at Team Canada and can perhaps find a flaw or two heading into the third matchup. There really aren’t any secrets at this point.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see Canada’s puck possession game get so disrupted on Thursday. The hallmark of this team is execution and it’ll adjust too.

“Well they’re just patient,” Crosby said of Team Europe. “They sit back a lot. When they do get a turnover, they have some guys who can skate and they come back at you pretty quickly. It’s just a matter of making sure we make good decisions with the puck.

“Just high percentage plays and we did that when we had opportunities.”

There had to be a strange sense of satisfaction in going back to the hotel with the knowledge that a perfect run through this tournament was at hand.

They had dodged a small bullet, and come out no worse for wear.

“Well it wasn’t our best,” said Stamkos. “I think we realize that. At this time of the tournament a win’s a win.”

Particularly when you only need one more to finish the job.