BUFFALO – Canada withstood a determined Russian effort by scoring the only three goals of the third period of a 6-3 win in the opening game of the 2011 U20 for both teams.
The last time a Russian U20 team defeated Canada was in 2003 in Halifax, when the team was led by Alexander Ovechkin and rallied to win the gold-medal game, 3-2. After that, Canada won four straight games coming into today’s contest.
Canada next plays on December 28th against the Czech Republic while Russia meets Sweden in the late game that night. Three of Canada's goals came with the man advantage, and Canada held a decisive 42-27 advantage in shots on goal.
"It took us a couple of periods to get over the jitters," Canadian captain Ryan Ellis admitted. "This is my third World Juniors, and I was nervous, and it was difficult for some of the younger guys. But by the third period, we were playing our game."
Russia got the first goal after a veritable explosion of bodychecks by the Canadians which forced several giveaways and some good scoring chances. It came after one thunderous encounter deep in the Canadian end between a Russian sandwiched between two Canadians. The puck squirted free, and Vladimir Tarasenko made a quick pass to Yuri Urychev, who ripped a one-timer past a stunned Olivier Roy in the Canadian goal.
The goal silenced the huge Canadian crowd for a few minutes and seemed to undo the emotion and excitement created by Canada’s several big body bangs in the early going. Russia played with greater confidence as the checking waned, but one small but significant play changed the tone again.
Killing a penalty, Canada’s Casey Cizikas kicked and shoved the puck along the boards in the Russian end for some 20 seconds, fending off one check after another and bringing the appreciative crowd back to life. As soon as the penalty expired, the Canadians dominated the rest of the period.
"I was huffing and puffing when I got to the bench, but it felt good to hear the crowd get into it," Cizikas said. "We're always taught in a situation like that to eat time, and that's what I tried to do."
The unofficial home team tied the game at 17:55 when Marcus Foligno knocked in a loose puck after Louis LeBlanc went hard to the next and collided with goalie Igor Bobkov, the best player of the period for Russia.
Cody Eakin and Quintin Howden had thrilling rushes and almost scored, and Roy looked shaky in the Canadian net, but an exciting first period ended justly in a 1-1 tie.
The second period started out like a defensive struggle and ended in a goal-scoring shootout. The Canadians got the 2-1 goal on a strange play. Captain Ryan Ellis’s long point shot was low and just wide, but it bounced off the back boards, off the back of Bobkov’s skate, and into the net.
The lead held up for a scant minute and a half before Nikita Dvurechenski tied the game after a bad line change by the Canadians. Dvurechenksi streaked in over the blue line and ripped a shot between the pads of Roy, a weak goal on a relatively harmless shot.
Erik Gudbrandson gave Canada another lead on a terrific point shot that eluded Bobkov, but Danil Sobchenko tied it again on a Russian power play, banging home a loose puck at 16:52. A once close-checking game was now about offence and defensive mistakes. Both coaches saw their players give up several odd-man rushes during the period, suggesting first-game rustiness and nerves.
The scoring continued early in the third when Canada got a power play. Bobkov made two nice saves but Ryan Johansen batted a loose puck over the sprawling goalie at 3:46 to give the Canadians their third lead of the game, 4-3.
Two and a half minutes later, Canada opened a two-goal lead on a similar play. Also on a power play, it was Brayden Schenn, who batted in a loose puck over a fallen Bobkov to make it a 5-3 game. Curtis Hamilton added a goal in the final minute to close out the scoring.
"It's a disappointing loss," forward Semyon Valuiski said. "This is the biggest rivalry in hockey, and we did well to come back two times in the second period. But we took unnecessary penalties, and that was our biggest problem."