Team WHL and the Russians battled more than just each other on Wednesday in the fifth tilt of a six-game cross-country series. Weather conditions on British Columbia’s lower mainland have been brutal for about a week, making for treacherous travel conditions through the mountain passes.
Following the fourth game of the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge, played in Oshawa on Nov. 27, the Russian contingent flew to Vancouver. The plan was to bus to Kamloops, the site of the final game, to settle in and then drive back into Chilliwack for the first game against the WHL. Instead, the club altered its plans and stayed in Chilliwack. For Team WHL, a few players from the eastern-most teams arrived late on Wednesday afternoon after arriving in Vancouver and then navigating the slippery one-hour highway commute to Chilliwack.
Once the teams hit the ice at Chilliwack’s swank new Prospera Centre, Team WHL peppered Russian goaltender Nikita Bespalov throughout the first period. En route to a 5-3 victory, Team WHL outshot the Russians 18-1 in the first frame. Bespalov was outstanding, turning away all but one shot.
Ty Wishart (SJ) scored on a power play, rifling a low shot from the point past a partially screened Bespalov. Wishart’s partner on defense, Taylor Ellington (eligible 2007) and forward Kenndal McArdle (FLA) picked up the assists as the Russians aggressively defended a five-on-three man advantage.
Evident in the first period was the defensive play of Team WHL’s Karl Alzner (eligible 2007), who was effective with his reach and mobility in preventing the Russians from creating offensive pressure. Paired with Dustin Kohn (NYI), Alzner was able to slow the tempo in the defending zone and make efficient outlet passes to spring a number of odd-man rushes. The tandem of Kohn and Alzner looked comfortable together, as last season they were teammates with the Calgary Hitmen until Kohn was traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Bespalov stoned Ben Maxwell (MTL) on a breakaway late in the period and although defenseman Alexi Shvalev was thumbed for slashing on the play, the save seemed to jump start the Russians. Early in the second period during a two-man advantage, Dmitry Zyuzin shoved the puck past Leland Irving (CAL) to tie the game. It was the Russians’ second shot on goal of the night.
Team WHL scored midway through the second stanza when Zach Hamill (eligible 2007) slid the puck past Bespalov after the Russian goaltender coughed up a rebound on a point shot from Alzner. Hamill skated on the wing with centerman Colton Gillies (eligible 2007) and Riley Holzapfel (ATL).
Gillies, who sat out much of the first period after a checking from behind penalty and a ten-minute misconduct, was doubtful for the game due to an injured ankle that has kept him out of the Saskatoon Blades’ lineup for two weeks. During the second period, Gillies fell awkwardly after a collision in front of the Team WHL bench and was in obvious distress. However, he was able to return for the third period.
The Russians tied the game midway through the second period when Stanislav Romanov and Egor Milovzorov set up Dennis Kazionov (TB) with less than five minutes remaining.
A pair of Team WHL forward lines were relentless offensively in the second period. Codey Burki (COL) centered Brandon Wheat Kings’ teammate, Andrew Clark (eligible 2007) and Zach Boychuk (eligible 2008). Nick Drazenovic (STL) centered Prince George Cougars’ teammate Devin Setoguchi (SJ) and Ryan Russell (NYR). Each group applied consistent offensive pressure and would ultimately be rewarded in the final period.
Team WHL out shot the Russians 30-7 through two periods, yet the game was tied, 2-2. In the third period, the Russians created three good scoring chances during the first minute of play, but were thwarted by Irving. Two minutes later, Setoguchi stood his ground in front of the Russian goal and scored on a rebound off a Drazenovic shot to give the WHL the lead for good. Four minutes later, after a pair of hooking penalties to the Russians, Wishart scored his second of the game from Boychuk and Burki. On the next rush, Burki fired a shot through Bespalov, who was able to reach back and just prevent the puck from crossing the goal line.
Bespalov, the Russian player of the game, was spectacular from start to finish. He is tremendously flexible and made several quick glove saves on the night. Team WHL fired 43 shots at the 18-year-old, who has also watched fellow goalie Ilia Proskuryakov play solidly throughout the series. If not for Bespalov on this night, the outcome would never have been in doubt.
Milovozorov picked up his second helper of the game when Vadim Shipachev scored 20 seconds into a power play to narrow the gap to 4-3 with eight minutes remaining. Shipachev walked out of the corner and stuffed the puck under Irving who, along with the WHL penalty killers, did not look sharp on the play.
With slightly over five minutes to play, Clark sent a quick shot past Bespalov to seal the issue. Alzner and Boychuk were credited with assists.
Team WHL rolled four lines and three sets of defensemen throughout the game. The group spent only an hour on the ice together during the afternoon, yet showed cohesive offensive energy throughout the game. Of note was Setoguchi, who is showing no ill effects from a knee injury suffered while working out during the past offseason. The injury had prevented Setoguchi from participating at Hockey Canada’s WJC developmental camp and the Sharks training camp. But he showed explosive speed, great first stride acceleration, especially when breaking out of the Team WHL zone. A late cut from the 2006 WJC team, Setoguchi is motivated to make Hockey Canada brass take notice this time around, as the ADT series serves as a final audition for players hoping to earn an invitation to the WJC main camp in Calgary in two weeks.
Also paired up on defense were Scott Jackson (STL) and 2006 WJC holdover and Team WHL captain, Kris Russell (CBJ).
Defensemen Denis Osipov, along with Romanov and Shvalev were outstanding, logging a ton of ice time for a depleted and exhausted Russian lineup. Forward Sergei Zachupeyko established himself as a player with high-end skills, foot speed and acceleration.
Following the fourth game of the series in Oshawa, the OHL handed Kingston Frontenacs’ forward Chris Stewart (COL) a three-game suspension for a match penalty (spearing) he was assessed in the final minute. The indiscretion may haunt Stewart, who has been seriously considered for the WJC team…Russian defenseman Andrei Zubarev (ATL) and forward Andrei Lange were suspended for the duration of the series as a result of an altercation with on-ice officials with four seconds remaining in the game. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation will further evaluate the incident and additional action is pending…In Chilliwack, the Russians dressed 14 skaters and two goaltenders while Team WHL dressed 18 skaters and two goalies…Near blizzard conditions in the Fraser Valley contributed to attendance at Prospera Centre of 4, 404 patrons, about 1,000 fans fewer than anticipated.
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