Canada Rises to the Occasion with opening-game 5-3 Win Over Russia at World Junior Tournament
Dominique Ducharme on Monday morning noted his team had an opportunity to record a memorable chapter in the long, intense Canada/Russia hockey rivalry.
“There’s a lot of history (in) those games between Canada and Russia,” said Ducharme, the head coach of Canada at the 2017 world junior hockey championship.
“To be part of it, it’s one page we can write. It’s our own story now.”
Consider it a happy ending for Canada in its first game of the ’17 tournament on Monday night at the Air Canada Centre.
As it was during three exhibition games last week, Canada was relentless on the puck and defensively stymied the Russians at mostly every turn.
By the time the final horn had sounded, Canada won 5-3 before a lively crowd of 18,999 at the ACC, outshooting Russia 37-17.
Canada is back at it on Tuesday night, when it will square off against Slovakia. In the history of the world junior, Canada is 10-0-1 against Slovakia and has outscored it 55-14.
Canada and Russia had not met at the world junior since the 2015 gold-medal game, won 5-4 by Canada in the same building.
The five Canadian players who were part of the club that was sixth last winter in Helsinki — captain Dylan Strome, Thomas Chabot, Mathew Barzal, Julien Gauthier and Mitchell Stephens — spent the better part of the past two weeks ensuring that their teammates knew the dangers of failing to play to their potential.
They also stressed the importance of winning the first game. Last year, the disorganized, me-first Canadians opened the event with a loss to the United States and never recovered.
That was then.
As deep as Canada is up front (despite five eligible forwards in the National Hockey League, including Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner), Strome and Barzal must be offensive catalysts.
The two have talked the talk since selection camp started on Dec. 11.
Against Russia, they walked the walk. Barzal had one goal and two assists and was named Canada’s best player, while Strome scored two power play goals.
“There’s a huge advantage of us playing a team like Russia right out of the gate,” Barzal said. “You get in the tournament dive in headfirst. We are not starting behind the eight-ball like we did last year.
“It was the coolest atmosphere I have ever played in. I don’t think we put pressure on ourselves. Every guy in that room can score a goal. I want to be an offensive catalyst, but at the same time everybody needs to buy in.”
Strome, past the disappointment that came with being sent back to the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League by the Arizona Coyotes in November, scored on a power play in the second period on a pass from Barzal to give Canada a 2-1 lead. In the third, it was Barzal, a New York Islanders prospect, depositing the puck behind Russia goalie Ilya Samsonov to put the Canadians ahead 4-1.
Strome scored his second goal, this one off a Barzal rebound, midway through the third.
Those goals were crucial, as the Russians refused to wilt. Third-period goals by Kirill Kaprizov and Yegor Rykov made the final score a little more close than it should have been.
“You’re playing for so many other people than just the guys on your team,” Strome said of the emotions involved. “It’s a big deal. It was a classy game by both teams. It was nice to see.”
Carter Hart was not sharp in the Canadian net, but Ducharme said he was “happy with our goalies” and would not say who will start in net against Slovakia, whether it’s Hart or Connor Ingram.
Nicolas Roy and Tyson Jost (a pretty goal that came off a backhand deke to the roof of the net) also scored for Canada. Mikhail Sergachev also scored for Russia.
“We expect that, with the speed we have,” Ducharme said of the club’s puck pursuit and possession. “It’s part of our identity. It’s a good way to start for us, that first win. We want to build momentum.”