Thursday , 24 June 2021

Canada West and Russia start 2-0 at World Junior A Challenge

Alex Newhook, Canada West, gives chance to Canada East defender Cade Townend during the second period of Monday night’s game.

Austin Wong scored a pair and Team Canada West held Team Canada East to 19 shots in a decisive 6-1 victory at the World Junior A Challenge Monday night.

After the tight checking game against USA on Sunday, Canada West’s powerplay clicked and their top line of Holloway-Gosselin-Wong looked much more dangerous against a less defensively conscious team in Canada East.

Wong’s goals were the third and fourth of the night and put the game out of reach.

“USA is definitely a better team…we were able to make room for ourselves with our speed and found a way to win,” said Wong.

Canada West showed some of their elite talent in this tournament when second line centre Alex Newhook teamed up with Wong and Dylan Holloway for a tic-tac-toe beauty, after Canada West kept the puck in at the blueline, and turned over again to keep it in the zone.

“It’s pretty easy when you’re on the ice with two of the best players in the tournament for sure, Holloway and Newhook. They just set me up and gave me pretty much a free goal,” Wong said.

Wong separated himself in the neutral zone only a few minutes later with his skating ability and buried the fourth goal top shelf from the slot.

Harrison Blaisdell added a goal as the Canada West’s 3rd line looks as dangerous at times as the top-6. Ethan Leyh scored the sixth marker of the game unassisted, and centreman on that line, David Silye, is getting chances and winning faceoffs.

Tournament favourites starting to establish themselves

Through two days of the tournament Canada West and Russia are both 2-0.

Russia followed their 5-3 win over Canada East by defeating the Czech Republic 4-2 in the matinee Monday afternoon.

Vasily Podkolzin, who has Top-3 pick NHL pick potential according to the scouting scribes, added a goal and an assist to his scoring totals against the Czechs.

Craig Button on the Lakeland Connect Sports Show said that Podkolzin is a “complete winger.”

“He’s a player that can do it all. There’s no situation in the game that he can’t play in and excel. When you watch him in every single area – it’s not just the points. He made a play to break up a Canada East 2-on-1…that’s the type of player he is.

“I think any NHL team would love to have him. My list for TSN comes out on Wednesday and he’ll be number three,” said Button on the Sports Show.

Podkolzin is dangerous when he’s on the ice, and is showing that he plays a power, skill, and emotion game as a player.

It will lead him to the penalty box though. Twice in the opening game against Canada East, Canadian forwards took him off the ice for coincidental minors.

So he plays with panache one could say; but his sprawling backcheck to break up a threatening 2-on-1 in the third period when Canada East desperately needed a goal to get a legitimate comeback started was certainly noticed.

Russia’s team is young enough to play in an under-18 tournament, and is very similar to the one they iced at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament.

The top line Gutik-Nikolayev-Podkolzin all finished tops or close in scoring totals this summer in Edmonton. Russia upset the United States to win bronze and Podkolzin had a hat-trick.

Another three players: Likhachev, Mironov, and Sheshin could be top-60 pick in next year’s entry draft. They are ripe to be dangerous as the tournament progresses.

Canada West off day today

Canada West has an off day today before facing Russia on Wednesday. Russia beat Canada West 5-2 in the only pre-tournament game.

The tournament banquet is scheduled tonight at 5pm, then the Czech Republic and the United States play at 7pm.

Matthew Davis was given the night off after his 42 save performance, and will likely be the starter against Russia.

Davis looked confident and poised throughout the game despite a chaotic and overstuffed crease when the United States threatened for their second goal of the game.

His goaltending was a microcosm of each team’s unrelenting approach to the game.

Scoreless for over two periods, shooters had no time to gather the puck. They finished checks. They backchecked hard and with a purpose. They were disciplined.

The United States scored first on a shorthanded goal, and a first goal that late in the game carries a larger weight, but it also proved to open up the flanks in the neutral zone for more odd man rush opportunities.

Crossbars a factor

Hunter Blaisdell thought, as many in the arena did, that he had scored the clinching goal thanks to his speed past the blueline. Bar down, goal light on, the obligatory jump into the boards – but the whistle never blew and the game remained 1-1 with just a minute remaining.

With no official video replay for the referees to decipher, the game continued into overtime.

Five minutes of thrilling 3-on-3 overtime, although fewer great chances for Canada West, lead to a shootout lasting seven rounds.

Again the crossbar made a starring appearance, twice bailing out Davis (or expertly decoyed by Davis just as well) with the first two shooters for the United States.

Alex Newhook made a bit of dog’s breakfast with his first attempt, but said he knew what he wanted to do with the puck when Coach Rick Swan put him back out as the seventh shooter.

“First one definitely got away from me a little bit, wasn’t too happy with that one. But to get a second opportunity I really wanted to make the most of it, and have it go in was great,” said Newhook following the 2-1 shoutout win.

And to give Davy [Matthew Davis] an opportunity to get it for us – he stood on his head the whole game and getting the win was big for our group,” he said.

Winner will be 3-0

Canada West looked like they learned some lessons since playing Russia in the preliminary round, beginning with an undefeated start in tournament play.

“We know what they’re about because we’ve already played them, so just prepare well, get a good skate in tomorrow and go after it,” said Wong.

Coach Rick Swan said Russia’s ability to play both a skill game and physical game is unique to his three years experience in the World Junior A Challenge.

“They’re capable of playing a physical, hard game as well as that skill. We’ll have to be disciplined. We weren’t very disciplined in our exhibition game.

“We’re gonna have to stick to our structure, because as coaches, we’ll go to work, and make sure we’ll prepare our players and give them everything they need in order to know what to see with the Russians, but ultimately we’ve got to make sure we’re aware of key guys on the ice,” said Swan.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.