Day: December 27, 2016

Canada edges Russia

By Andrew Podnieks

Canada opened the 2017 World Juniors with a 5-3 win over archrivals Russia in a game dominated by defence and caution–and three power-play goals by the hosts

Captain Dylan Strome had two goals while Matt Barzal had a goal and two assists. Tyson Jost was a force in the first period for Canada as well.

Ilya Samsonov was the busier of the two goalies. He faced 37 shots, many good scoring chances, while Carter Hart stopped 14 of 17 shots for Canada.

“He’s a big goalie who moves well,” Strome said of Samsonov, “so for us to get five by him today says a lot about us. We’re shooting the puck and going to the net hard.”

In the end, Canada’s ability to pressure the Russian defence and force turnovers proved the difference. The score was close, but Canada had the greater puck possession simply by virtue of tenacity.

“We knew coming in it was going to be an intense game,” Barzal said. “Emotions were high, but we had a good start to the game and built off that. We were never too high or too low.”

“It was a great game,” said Russian forward Denis Guryanov, a 2015 Dallas Stars draft choice. “Both teams played with speed. We played a full 60 minutes, but there were times Canada was a bit more fortunate than we were.”

Canada got just the start it wanted thanks to great vision from Philippe Myers and clever positioning from Jost. Jost managed to get in behind the Russian defence in the slot while Myers had the puck along the left-wing boards. He found Jost with a perfect pass, and Jost made a nice deke from in close, roofing a backhand over Samsonov at 3:11 for the early lead.

But the Russians tied the score midway through on a sneaky shot from Mikhail Sergachyov from a long way out. Hart was screened, and the wrist shot drifted over his shoulder at 9:47 to make it a 1-1- game.

Jost was the best player on either side in the first, forechecking effectively, creating chances, and jumping on loose pucks.

The game settled into a stalemate in the second, neither side wanting to make an error, neither side willing to be too creative if it meant risking a turnover. Canada went ahead at 13:15 on a power play when Barzal fired a cross-ice pass to Strome, who ripped a one-timer past a lunging Samsonov.

Then, at 17:08, Nicolas Roy stripped Denis Alexeyev of the puck inside the Russian blue line and in one motion wired a shot to the far side, past a surprised Samsonov.

The hosts added to their lead early in the third on another power play. This time Strome returned the favour, getting the puck in front where Barzal, off balance, got enough of a shot off to beat Samsonov at 3:03.

Kirill Kaprizov brought the Russians to within two goals two minutes later on a Russian man advantage, his shot finding the five hole between Hart’s pads at 5:12.

Strome added another goal with the extra man at 9:06 when a Barzal shot came off the crossbar right to the captain, who sniped it in for a 5-2 lead.

A minute and a half later, another deadly wrist shot beat Hart to the far side, this one courtesy of Yegor Rykov.

Both teams are right back at it tomorrow. Russia plays Latvia in the early game while Canada takes on Slovakia in the late game.

“Slovakia won bronze two years ago,” Strome noted. “They have some good players, including one guy from Erie who’s a huge defenceman in his fourth World Juniors [Erik Cernak], so they’re a good team.”

Czechs nip Finns

By Lucas Aykroyd

The Czech Republic surprised defending champion Finland 2-1 in their opener on Monday night. Michael Spacek scored the winner with 1:18 remaining.

With Adam Musil screening in front, Spacek cut to the middle of the ice and lofted a long shot past Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen. Spacek, a 19-year-old Winnipeg Jets prospect, is playing in his third straight IIHF World Junior Championship.

“It was a good feeling,” said Spacek. “This goal is special in my career.”

Daniel Krenzelok had the other goal for the Czechs, who sang as they came off the ice. Joona Luoto replied for the Finns.

“Everybody was disappointed,” said Finland’s Eeli Tolvanen. “We wanted to win the first game and get more confidence. We just have to keep going.”

The Czechs haven’t won any U20 medals since 2005’s bronze in Grand Forks, North Dakota. They finished fifth last year under coach Jakub Petr, who’s returned for 2017.

Finland, which beat Russia in overtime in last year’s final in Helsinki, is looking for its third gold medal in four years. Finland also topped host Sweden in overtime in the 2014 final in Malmo.

“We can still win this tournament,” said Finnish captain Olli Juolevi, a tournament all-star last year with nine points. “We haven’t lost anything, kind of. It’s just one game, and we have to be ready to play tomorrow against Denmark.”

The Czechs, whose average age is 19 to Finland’s 18, outshot their opponents 30-23.

Named Finland’s Player of the Game, Vehvilainen probably deserved a better fate. He is most noted for his superb 60-save performance in a 2-1 overtime loss to the United States in the final of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. The Jyvaskyla native was Finland’s starter at the World Juniors, but was replaced by Kaapo Kahkonen in the quarter-final against Canada and never got the net back.

Last year, Finland edged the Czechs 5-4 in a strange run-and-gun affair. This game in Montreal was much tighter.

The Czechs came out aggressively and drew first blood at 4:27. Krenzelok floated a shot from the left point that bounced off Henrik Borgstrom’s back. Vehvilainen got a piece of it with his glove, but it still found the top corner. Moments later, the Finnish goalie made a fine save on Tomas Soustal’s slot attempt on a 2-on-1 rush.

At 8:56, Finland equalized on Luoto’s gutsy solo effort. He stole the puck from Musil in the neutral zone, got past defenceman Petr Kalina, and lifted it past Czech goalie Jakub Skarek on the short side.

In the second period, the teams traded ineffective power plays. Tolvanen had an impactful shift with about seven minutes left in the frame, cutting in from right wing and forcing Skarek to make a nice pad save before hammering Lukas Jasek into the boards.

Early in the third, the Finns were penalized for too many men on the ice, but the Czechs squandered their advantage. Finland pulled Vehvilainen in the final minute, seeking the tying goal, but to no avail.

“All three periods, we didn’t play like individuals,” said Czech forward Filip Chlapik. “We played like a team. I think that’s why we won.”

Finland had more high-profile firepower at the 2016 tournament with the top line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine. All three forwards were eligible to return for 2017, but are with their respective NHL clubs.

“Those guys are some of the best players right now in the NHL,” said Juolevi. “It’s a big loss for any team, especially Finland. But we can’t do anything about that. They’re not here now, and we have to play with this team.”

Similarly, the Czechs don’t have anyone of David Pastrnak’s calibre this year. He and Laine are currently tied for second place in NHL goals (19) behind Sidney Crosby (24).

Jukka Rautakorpi is seeking his first World Junior medal as Finland’s head coach. He previously coached the team in 1999 (fifth), 2008 (sixth), and 2009 (seventh). Karri Kivi helmed the 2014 gold and Jukka Jalonen was in charge last year.

The last time Finland lost a World Junior game was 28 December, 2015, falling 6-4 to Russia.

Next up for the Finns is Denmark on Tuesday evening. The Czechs have little time to rest, playing the early game against Switzerland that day.

“Switzerland is a good team,” said Spacek. “They lost 4-3 to Canada in overtime [in exhibition]. So it’s not easy. I hope we play tomorrow like today.”

Americans win opener

By Andrew Podnieks –

Team USA wasn’t perfect, but in a tournament opener against an inexperienced Latvian team, it played well enough to earn a 6-1 win at the Air Canada Centre.

Two goals in the middle period broke a 1-1 tie to ensure the victory. Clayton Keller had two goals for the Americans, who limited Latvia to just 12 shots on goal.

“We take every game and team seriously,” said assistant captain Colin White, who had a goal and an assist. “We had a few days off before this game, so it took us a bit of time to get our legs going. Overall, there were a lot of positives we can take for the next game.”

This marked Latvia’s first U20 game at the top level since 2013. It won Division I-A last year to earn the promotion and looked every bit the second-best team this afternoon. Nonetheless, it also showed pluck and determination against an American team that was much faster and more skilled with the puck. 

The U.S. showed plenty of skill but also took some uncharacteristic penalties and allowed some odd-man rushes that might have been more costly against a top-six nation. Still, as the game went on, it played better and better.

“We don’t want to take so many penalties, of course,” White added, “but at the same time, we have a great penalty kill, so we’re confident.”

The Americans opened the scoring at 6:27 of the first on a routine shot by Patrick Harper from the slot. His shot fooled Mareks Mitens in the Latvian goal and staked the U.S. to an early lead. 

Latvia was outclassed the first half of the period and didn’t get its first shot until near the ten-minute mark. It wasn’t until four minutes later it got another shot, but that one counted. 

A loose puck squirted up the middle of the ice where Renars Krastenbergs, celebrating his 18th birthday, chased it down. He went in alone on Tyler Parsons and made a nice deke at 15:22 to tie the score and bring most of the crowd to its feet.

“Those cheers helped us a lot,” said Mitens. “It was such an amazing feeling when everyone got behind us.”

“I looked behind me to see how much time I had, and I saw the goalie back up a bit, so I made a move and it worked,” Krastenbergs said.

Interestingly, whereas the Latvians took the first half of the period to register a shot, the Americans were without one for all of the second half of the opening 20.

The U.S. took a 2-1 lead at 6:29 of the middle period. After allowing several odd-man rushes to their opponents, they went ahead on a nice pass by Tage Thompson to Colin White on a two-on-two rush. White finished the play by roofing a shot over Mitens’s glove from in close.

The Latvians had a great chance to tie the score with a two-man advantage for 1:24, but the U.S. penalty kill didn’t even allow so much as a shot on goal.

“Whenever you have something good like that happen, you get a lot of momentum,” White suggested. “That kill really got us going.”

Indeed, after a lengthy period of sustained pressure, Clayton Keller made it 3-1 with only 1:15 remaining in the middle period, putting the game out of reach.

Keller added his second at 12:19 of the third on a screen shot from the slot, and Jeremy Bracco found a hole between the pads of Mitens late in the game to make it 5-1. Jordan Greenaway closed out the scoring with 39.9 seconds remaining.

The U.S. has tomorrow off while the Latvians play Russia in the afternoon.

Day One Recap of the Spengler Cup


Opening game victory for Lugano

Last year’s finalist Lugano has successfully started into the 90th edition of the Spengler Cup. The Ticinesi defeated Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 4-2 in the opening game on Monday night.

Lugano’s reinforcement James Wisnewski put his team ahead with a precise shot from a distance on the first power play. The man advantage lasted for only seven seconds. Dmitry Monya capped a fine solo effort with a slick finish to tie it up for the Russians. The Ticinesi decided the game in the middle period with two goals within 71 seconds. First, Raffaele Sannitz redirected a long-range shot by Ryan Gardner into the net. Then, the 38-year-old Ryan Gardner showed his continued reliability in front of the net of Avtomobilist keeper Vladimir Sachatzky, who had replaced Ivan Lisutin after the second goal against. On the power play, Aryom Gareyev then brought his team back into the game with a goal twelve minutes before the end of regulation time. Yet, Lugano’s solid goaltender Elvis Merzlikins prevented to equalizer. Linus Klasen put the game away for good with an empty-netter 20 seconds before the end.

Lugano, thanks to its opening game victory, will get the day off Tuesday, while Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg will face off against HK Mountfield in the second game of Group Torriani in the afternoon.

Dynamo Minsk announces its ambition

Defending champion Team Canada started its campaign at the 90th Spengler Cup with a loss. The Canadians suffered a 7-4 defeat at the hands of Dynamo Minsk, despite having led the game 3-1 and 4-3.

Team Canada and Dynamo Minsk wore each other down in a high-level, fast-paced battle with five goals already in the first 17 minutes of play. The Canadians showed a fierce reaction to Alexander Materchin’s go-ahead goal. Andrew Ebbett tied things up soon after, then Maxim Noreau as well as Mason Raymond took advantage of a couple of power play opportunities to put their team up by two. Yevgeny Kovyrshin cut Minsk’s deficit to one before the first intermission. Team Canada dominated parts of the game, but Ben Scrivens, Dynamo’s Canadian goaltender, kept the Belarusians in it with several outstanding saves. And then Yevgeny Lisovez’s 3-3 in the 31st minute blew the game wide open again.

To start the third period, Noreau gave the Canadians a 4-3 lead with the third power play goal, but then the Eastern Europeans came up big. Dmitry Korobov, Kovyrshin, Sergei Drosd, and Nikita Komarov (empty netter) delivered the ultimately comfortable win for Dynamo Minsk. The Belarusian’s efficiency was brilliant, as they required only 19 shots on Drew MacIntyre’s net to score their seven goals. On the other hand, the high pace early on seemed to have taken its toll on the Canadians.