HALIFAX, Canada – Still burning from losses to Russia at the last two IIHF World Junior Championships, Canada got a small bit of revenge by winning the four-game Canada-Russia Challenge Series.
Ryan Strome, a member of the Canadian team that lost 6-5 to Russia in the semi-finals in Calgary in January, scored at 3:20 of overtime to clinch the series.
Canada was trailing two games to one and the Russians needed only a tie in regulation time in Game 4 at Halifax, but the Canadians rallied to win 4-2 and force a sudden-death overtime period to decide the series.
"I like that pull-and-drag shot, I've scored a few like that before," Strome told the Canadian television network TSN. "I saw a little bit of the mesh and put it on net and, luckily, it went in.
"I think it was big for us," he said. "We had a bitter taste in our mouth from the World Juniors last year."
Russia was trailing only 3-2 late in the third period and pressing for the goal, which would have given it the series, when defenceman Albert Yarullin was penalized for a hit to the head. Jonathan Huberdeau scored on the ensuing power play to virtually put the game away.
Ty Rattie scored a pair of goals for Canada, with Lucas Lessio and Huberdeau adding singles. The Russian goalscorers were Andrei Sigarev and Albert Yarullin.
Before the game, Ken Dryden who was a member of Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, addressed the Canadian players in the dressing room, telling them, “This is your Team Canada, just run with it.”
Malcolm Subban, a first-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2012, got Canada off to a good start in the series with a solid effort in goal in a 3-2 victory at Yaroslavl. Sean Monahan, Scott Harrington and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Canadians, with Anton Slepyshev and Nail Yakupov replying for the Russians.
It was fitting that Kirill Kapustin, a close friend of some of the victims of the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air crash in September of 2011, was the star of Russia’s 6-3 win in Game 2 at Yaroslavl. He scored three goals and came very close to netting a fourth.
Following the crash in September of 2011, Kapustin paid this tribute to his former teammates.
"I have a strong desire to win the [KHL's] Gagarin Cup now, to win the youth championship and dedicate the victory to my friends, who died," he told Russia Today.
In fact, Kapustin played for both the Lokomotiv team in the VHL, one level below the KHL, and the Loko junior club in 2011/2012. This season he will make his KHL debut as Lokomotiv returns to the Russia’s top league.
The turning point in Game 2 came in the second period when Canada’s Mark Scheifele was given a five-minute major and ejected from the game for a knee-on-knee hit on a Russian player. The Canadians shot themselves in the foot with a lot of unnecessary penalties.
Maxim Shalunov also scored twice for Russia and Anton Zlobin connected once. The Canadian scorers were Ty Rattie, Morgan Rielly and Strome.
Goalie Andrei Makarov won Game 3 for the Russians almost singlehandedly. Makarov was brilliant in the 6-5 victory in which Canada outshot Russia 42-27.
Andrei Sigarev’s second goal of the night with 6:30 to play was the game winner.
Canada’s best offensive player was defenceman Ryan Murphy, who made several strong rushes and finished the night with a goal and three assists.
Vladimir Tkachev, Mikhail Naumenkov, Zlobin and Slepyshev were the other Russian goalscorers. Ryan Murray, Monahan, Charles Hudon and Huberdeau also lit the lamp for Canada.
For the most part, the Canadians were successful in keeping Russia’s first line of Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Anton Zlobin in check, which was a major reason for their victory in the series. Zlobin, who scored the winning goal in overtime for the Shawinigan Cataractes in the Memorial Cup final, scored two goals in the series and Yakupov had one, but Grigorenko failed to score.
The teams were exhausted when they arrived in Halifax for the second half of the series, as a result of unusually long travel days.
The Canadian team left Yaroslavl Friday night and did not arrive in Halifax until 25 hours later. After busing to Moscow and waiting at the airport there, the team flew to London, where they had another stopover at a Heathrow Airport, already overflowing because of the Summer Olympics, then flew on to Halifax.
Some Canadian players were alert enough to discover they could get a shower and massage in the airline lounge at the airport.
The Russian team did not arrive in Halifax until Sunday, the day before Game 3.
Two of the most impressive players in the series were Monahan and Slepyshev, who are both highly rated for the NHL draft of 2013.
The series was a preview of the 2013 World Junior Championship, to be held in Ufa, Russia, Dec. 26-Jan. 5.
Canada and Russia both have their sights set on dethroning defending champion Sweden at that tournament.
Byron McCrimmon – father of Brad McCrimmon, who lost his life in the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air crash – accompanied the team to Russia and laid flowers at a memorial before the series started. McCrimmon was head coach of the Lokomotiv club.
The exhibition series also was part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, generally regarded as the greatest hockey series ever played.
Prior to the final game, the crowd in Halifax gave a standing ovation to players from that series who took part in the ceremonial faceoff. Yuri Lyapkin, Alexander Yakushev, and Vladislav Tretiak represented Russia while Ken Dryden, Don Awrey and Pat Stapleton were there for Canada.
Sellout crowds of 9,000 packed Arena 2000 in Yaroslavl for the first two games.
More than 8,000 were at the two games in Halifax.