It's not every day you watch a hockey game that has the potential to end as an overtime loss despite a 4-2 win for the home team. After a regulation time victory over Team Russia, the Canadian U-20 squad needed an extra period to determine junior hockey superiority in Halifax. They did as shortly into the extra frame, a wicked Ryan Strome wrist shot won the tournament for Canada.
Canada won the first game of the tournament but dropped Games Two and Three, meaning that they needed a regulation victory in Game Four to have a chance at capturing the Canada-Russia Challenge series. There's no "right" way to determine the winner in a 4-game series when it's tied 2-2, but this is probably better than determining the series off of pure goal differential.
How did we get there? Well, Jonathan Huberdeau dominated, making a play on the first Canada goal of the game that got line mate Lucas Lassio the puck in front of the net. He cleared the front of the net later on a powerplay and created the space for Ty Rattie to tie the game 2-2 in the second. He had another assist in that period on a Rattie goal, and scored again in the third with a little under six minutes to go on another power move in front. Canada had a 4-2 lead at that point and hung on for the victory after 60 minutes.
In 4-on-4 Overtime, Strome was on the ice on a forward unit with Charles Hudon and a clearing attempt bounced off of Xavier Ouellett to Hudon on the near boards. After a second failed clearing attempt, Strome made a step around Mikhail Naumenkov and delivered a wicked shot over the shoulder of a cheating Andrey Vasilevski who had to play deep with Ouellet cutting to the net.
Winning this tournament is good to reassure Canadian junior hopes, and there's a lot of talent to pull from to make Team Canada's World U-20 roster in Ufa, Russia this winter. Here's how the units were graded:
Forwards — The greatest threat to Team Canada's forward unit is, oddly, the NHL labour negotiations. If an NHL season were to start on schedule, the Canadians would likely lose Huberdeau and Strome to the bigs, and they were Canada's most threatening weapons on the ice in this game.
But there's a lot of talent on this group, although the team couldn't generate anything more than scoring chances at 5-on-5. The second line was buzzing in part to the stellar play by Hudon. Ty Rattie's pair of goals on the powerplay was his first offensive showing on the night. Mark Scheifele looked as good as he's ever been, drawing three penalties and making himself a physical presence with a couple of big hits. Overall, Canada did a good job at winning board battles in the offensive zone and keeping the shot clock ticking.
Philip Danault did a good job on the third line creating a couple of good scoring chances, but his wingers were virtually invisible. Linemate Phil di Giuseppe didn't play particularly well offensively but that line did a good job at keeping Russia out of their end of the ice. Finally, Boone Jenner played well at both ends on the fourth line and that could be an effective unit if Tom Wilson didn't take a couple of bad penalties.
Defence — Speaking of players you may lose to the NHL for the final roster in December, Ryan Murphy was again Canada's greatest weapon from the back-end, but the unit as a whole didn't integrate themselves with the offence as much as they had in Game Three.
Perhaps that was due to the coach. Spott seemed determined to get Scott Harrington to match up against Russia's big weapons Nail Yakupov-Mikhail Grigorenko-Anton Zlobin, and that line didn't have a good amount of success until a couple of good chances in the third period. Canada seemed stronger in their own end than in Game Three, but a lot of that comes from the play of the goaltender behind them. Two goals looks a lot better than six, even if not all of the six given up in the last two games were particularly the fault of the defencemen.
In the 4-on-4 OT, I thought there would be more space for the defence to shine. Other than a couple of rushes by Murphy and Ouellett on the winner, I didn't see too much aggression from the back end although not too many defenders got out for more than a shift in the period. Morgan Rielly and Dougie Hamilton looked good on the right side of centre, but I thought they looked shaky in their own end, particularly Hamilton who misplayed a couple of loose pucks in front of his own net, the first of which led to Russia's first goal.
Goaltending — After poor performances from Laurent Brossoit and Maxime Lagace in Games Two and Three, Canada returned with Malcolm Subban in Game Four and he was good, even if he wasn't particularly busy. Both goals that beat him did so under the most honourable of circumstances: a 2-on-1 where Andrei Sigarev mishandled the puck slightly, fooling Subban's movement, and the second goal was an absolute rocket from the point on the powerplay from Albert Yarullin.
He didn't have to be great, but being "good" on this night was enough for Canada. He was fine, and he ought to be the clear-cut favourite to backstop Canada's junior team come December.
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