Team OHL evens the series with Russia

By Glen Jackson

It was clear from the outset of the second Team OHL game versus the Russian Selects that the Canadians were determined to bump and get in the face of Russian goaltender Andrei Kuznetsov on the way to winning their second straight and tying the series at two games each. They were successful on all counts.

"We’re happy to get the victory," said OHL Coach Jim Hulton after the game. "We looked after our end of the bargain and now it’s up to Coach (Brent) Sutter in the West to complete the deal for Canada."

Team OHL came out flying in the first period and after a number of deliberate but mostly legal bumps of Kuznetsov, Mike Richards (PHI), the captain of Team OHL, nudged the Russian keeper again after the whistle on a long shot. When the Russian defense took offense and began to push him he rolled off of them and again skated into the still kneeling Kuznetsov, pressing his right fist into the side of the keepers’ mask until Kuznetsov pulled his head back and pushed at Richards’ legs with his stick to move him away. Still, despite the intimidation and crease-crowding, Kuznetsov appeared unfazed.

That is until 4:04 into the first period when Jeff Carter (PHI) cleanly won a draw in the Russian zone back to Nathan McIver (VAN). McIver skated along the boards three or four strides before releasing a soft wrist shot that deflected off a Russian player and bounced between Kuznetsov’s legs. Even with the slight deflection it seemed that it should have been an easy save for Kuznetsov, and so it appeared the Team OHL intimidation approach to the game was at least somewhat successful.

"It was a great experience, playing with all those (OHL) guys," said McIver, who was named the Team OHL player of the game for his efforts. "I take pride in playing great defense. From watching (the QMJHL versus Russia games) I noticed that their forwards were really fast. They like to take the puck wide, they try to dangle a lot so you just have to play the body and keep them to the outside."

It didn’t get much better for Kuznetsov and the Russian Selects after McIver’s goal, and they ended up falling to Team OHL for the second straight game, this time by the score of 5-2.

As in the first game in Barrie last Thursday night, the four London Knights players on the Team OHL roster made sizeable contributions throughout the game. Just over eight minutes after the opening goal Dylan Hunter (BUF) skated through a check at center ice and managed to flip a pass forward to Knights’ teammate Corey Perry (ANA). Fighting off tough checking of his own as best he could Perry managed to get a shot off as he was knocked over by the Russian defender. Kuznetsov stacked his pads and saved the low shot, but Perry slid into him, pushing the goalie away from the front of the net. Meanwhile, Hunter had continued to skate hard up ice and he beat his checker to the puck to dump the puck into the vacated net.

It was fitting that the two had worked hard to generate the second goal of the game given that they have been linemates with the undefeated and nearly unbelievable London Knights dating back to before the start of this season. Off the ice they have been inseparable, as well, with both taking a summer job with a mattress retailer in London this past offseason. They are also one-two in scoring for the OHL, with Perry notching 57 points and Hunter clocking in at 48.

Fellow Knight Danny Syrvet again had a solid game on defense as he did in Barrie, and Team OHL Coach Jim Hulton said that his performance in the last two games has opened up the eyes of those selecting the Canadian World Junior team.

"We don’t get a chance to watch him as much as some of the fans in the West (conference) but this kid is amazing," said Hulton, who is the head coach of the Eastern Conference’s Kingston Frontenacs. "He (Syrvet) is playing his fifth game in five days and probably logged 30 minutes in each of the games, and looked like he could have played the whole night tonight. He’s a very intelligent defenseman who moves the puck. I think the biggest compliment to a guy like Danny is that you can watch the whole game and not notice him."

Syrvet’s stock has risen significantly this season, and three weeks earlier he was named the OHL Player of the Week, the only defenseman to receive the honor so far this season.

For most of the first period it appeared that not only would Team OHL win, but that it might turn into a complete blowout. When Russia did get good chances off of OHL giveaways they weren’t able to do anything with them.

With the first period winding down, Team OHL defender Jordan Smith (ANA) gave the puck away to Russia twice in one shift, the second time setting up a potential two on one for the Russian Selects had the off-puck forward stayed onside.

Eventually Russia did get it together and with 1:17 left in the first they got on the board when Mikhail Yunkov (WAS) forced his way through the Canadian defense and slapped a backhand pass to his left as he fell. The pass landed on Roman Voloshenko’s (MIN) stick and he one-timed a shot into the open side of the net, out of the reach of the helpless Team OHL goaltender David Shantz (FLA).

That late Russian goal seemed to wake the team up and they finished the first period well. Overall, Team OHL out shot the Russian Selects 12 to 9 in the first.

In the second period the OHL team went back to crowding Kuznetsov, but Team OHL’s third goal, the eventual game winner, came from the work of the three Knights forwards in the game who appeared together on a shift. Hunter tied up a Russian defender trying to clear the zone in the corner to Kuznetsov’s left and Perry was quick to pick up the puck and he began to skate for the back of the Russian net. Spotting David Bolland (CHI) alone in front of the crease Perry fed him a perfect pass and Bolland slapped it past Kuznetsov to make it 3-1.

Aside from scoring the eventual game winner Bolland showed off the feisty side of his game, attempting to make a few big hits in the neutral zone and hacking at Russians throughout the night when he wasn’t busy creating offense.

There was much more to Team OHL than the four London Knights, but Coach Jim Hulton recognized them for their efforts. "With the London trio of Bolland, Hunter, and Perry it’s easy to see why they’re undefeated this season. These kids impressed with how competitive they are."

With one extra forward and defenseman dressed, Team OHL shuffled lines and pairings the entire night, but almost every combination of forwards was effective and outmatched all but the top two Russian lines by a fair margin.

"We have a lot of talented kids (in the OHL) that play a number of different styles. I think that’s what allowed us to be successful throwing different line combinations and D pairings together," said Hulton.

When asked if his team gave any special treatment to the top Russian line, which has produced the vast majority of offense for the Russian Selects in this tournament, Hulton shook his head. "No, we just worked on our own team and our systems rather than identifying any of the top guys on the other team."

Shortly after Bolland’s tally Russia’s second line of Alexander Zhurun, Sergei Kotchetkov and Igor Skorokhodov all but earned a goal but were robbed close in by Shantz. Behind the OHL net Zhurun, who was one of Russia’s best performers on this night, worked against the OHL defense and was knocked to the ice. Lying on his stomach he backhanded a moving puck to Kotchetkov who was positioned behind the net as well near the opposite post. Kotchetkov quickly passed the puck to the front of the net where a wide open Skorokhodov directed a low, hard shot to the far post. Shantz followed the play perfectly and, as he’s done so many times with the Mississauga IceDogs, quickly moved across the crease in a butterfly and stopped the puck without allowing a rebound. It was easily Shantz’s best save of the night and left Skorokhodov and the other Russians shaking their heads.

Accentuating Shantz’s effort, Team OHL scored less than 30 seconds later when Richards charged the Russian net and, with the help of a shove from a Russian defender, bumped Kuznetsov out of the way for Benoit Pouliot to tap the puck home to make the score 4-1.

Shantz would face only 25 shots on the night, but whenever he was called on he looked more than up to the task, moving well and with confidence. In fact, the only time he looked beatable was on one of the first shots of the night. It was a distant point shot with low velocity and it slipped between Shantz’s legs as he dropped into the butterfly. It came out on the other side and trickled just wide of the near post. The rest of the night was essentially clear sailing for Shantz.

With just over forty seconds left in the second period the Russians had a promising offensive rush but after Alexander Plyuschev passed the puck away in the OHL zone he became entangled with Ryan Parent. Plyuschev wrestled Parent to the ice and the whistle blew with penalties to both sides just a second before one of Plyuschev’s linemates one-timed a shot into the Team OHL net. The period ended with Russia down 4-1 and the shot count after two standing at 28 to 15 in favor of Team OHL.

The Russians were clearly frustrated throughout the first half of the third period and many of the players began to take liberties with their sticks to vent some of that frustration. Alexander Mikalishin (NJ) became annoyed with Jordan Smith and began to swing at Smith with his gloves on. He got his stick too high and was given a triple minor offsetting Smith just getting 2 minutes for high sticking as well, sending Team OHL to the power play. Thirty-six seconds later Sergei Shirokov was called for cross checking, giving Team OHL a 5 on 3 advantage, which was about the only time in the game that the Canadian team did not look good. Later, Russian captain Dmitry Megalinksy dealt a hard hit to Perry after the puck had already gone back up the ice, knocking Perry’s helmet off in the process. Megalinsky received an interference penalty for this transgression. In all, the Russians would take 12 minutes of penalties in the period.

Just past the midway point of the third Richards took a penalty and on the ensuing power play Voloshenko was camped out to Shantz’s right all by himself. Defenseman Andrei Plekhanov (CLB) let loose a canon from the point low and to the left side of the net. Shantz managed to half-butterfly in time but it deflected off his pad and right onto the tape of Voloshenko’s stick. The second round pick of the Minnesota Wild made no mistake and brought the Russians to within two goals of the OHL, 4-2.

Russia responded by continuing to play a feisty but more focused game to its conclusion, but with less than a minute left, and with those who remained in their seats at the Hershey Centre serenading the Russians with ‘hey hey’s’ and ‘good-byes’, Anthony Stewart (FLA) and Carter raced up the ice on a two on one. Stewart passed to Carter across the width of the ice and Carter skated with the puck for a few big strides before sending the puck back to Stewart. Stewart then roofed the puck over a sprawling Kuznetsov from the edge of the crease to give Team OHL the definitive three-goal victory.

After the game Coach Hulton was crediting his team’s approach and the North American playing surface for the OHL’s two wins. "It is really their style versus ours and it’s on a rink with our dimensions and we’re the best at. When we’re keeping the game simple, chipping pucks on the outside, getting pucks in behind their defense and then going after them physically, we’re successful."

However Russian coach Valery Bragin wasn’t so sure that the ice surface had anything to do with it. "It’s not a disadvantage (the North American rink dimensions). Not to worry, Voloshenko (nodding at Roman Voloshenko standing near by and smiling) is adapting really well, so I don’t see any problems."

And Voloshenko echoed those sentiments, going one step further. "I like the smaller rinks better because the bigger rink has less shooting and passing."

Coach Bragin stated that they are looking at "three or four" candidates from this team for the World Junior Championships in December and that goaltender Anton Khudobin (MIN), who was called home early from the tournament, will be one of the two goalies for Russia. That would leave Voloshenko and Yunkov who will almost certainly be there, and perhaps one other player outside of Alexander Radulov (NAS), who played only the first two games of the series against the QMJHL.

In fact, Bragin all but confirmed his stellar first line from Quebec will at least be there, if not playing together. "Before the World Juniors we’re going to have a camp where it will be decided if Voloshenko, Radulov, Yunkov will play together or not. That is the plan," said Bragin.

The Canadian side has a lot of returning players to their junior squad this year, and Coach Hulton feels that the performances of some of the OHL players in the last two games will have opened some eyes, specifically defensemen Danny Syrvet and Kyle Quincey (DET). "I mean, you’re picking a national team here in Canada there are going to be difficult decisions and those kids did themselves extremely proud. They made life difficult for us but we want difficult choices because that means that we’re going to have a very good national team."

The ADT CHL-Russia Challenge is now tied at two games apiece with the WHL up next.

Coach Hulton said he expects the WHL to pick up where the OHL left off when they play December 1st and 2nd. "I think the Canadian style of hockey is what won the games for us here with the forecheck. At times we held them without a shot and a lot of that started off with the forecheck. I think the Western brand of hockey is going to be the same thing."

Voloshenko believes the Russian Selects can still pull out a series victory despite how outplayed they were the last two games. "We just need to take advantage of our opportunities better."


Miscellaneous Notes:

– Anthony Stewart came into the game having just been named the OHL Player of the Week. He had an assist in each of the three games the Frontenacs played last week as well as back-to-back hat tricks.

– Nathan McIver was named player of the game for Team OHL, Roman Voloshenko for Russia. Voloshenko was player of the game for both matches against the OHL.

Wojtek Wolski (COL) did nothing to stand out in the two games for Team OHL aside from missing a power play setup opportunity on Monday on an excellent setup feed from Syrvet.

– Jeff Carter responded from his mediocre game in Barrie last Thursday with two assists and all around strong play.

– Russian defenseman Andrei Plekhanov made a nifty pass to himself off the back of the Russian net to avoid a streaking OHL forechecker as well as assisting on the second Russian goal later in the third. He was Russia’s best all-around defenseman.

– Coach Valery Bragin downplayed the importance of the series for anything other than preparation for the World Juniors after the game: "The main point of all these games is to see who will perform better to make sure the World Junior Championship successful. There is no pressure really here, we just want to see how players will perform."

– Head Coach Sergei Gersonsky had this to say of star forward Roman Voloshenko after the first game: "He’s obviously made huge strides. I like his shot, he’s got a very quick release, a very good wrist shot. He thinks really well on the ice and does things very quickly. He’s got some size to him which is nice. Roman just has to work a little bit on his overall quickness. That would be the one area that he has to improve, but he’s obviously improved."

Voloshenko was asked about the quickness issue and said, "In Toronto I was practicing just skating skills, and then when I came to Russia I learned special exercises for my skating and speed."

– Nikolai Kulemin began the night in Radulov’s spot on the top line and assisted on the first Russian goal, but on the successful power play in the third he had been replaced by Alexander Zhurun.