Canada vs Russia for all the opening round marbles. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
With a combined 28 gold medals at the World Junior Hockey Championships (the next closest country has 2) this is the Rolls Royce matchup of junior hockey. On Russian soil with first place in the group on the line, you can bet that both countries (and the crowd) will be up for this one.
The repercussions are fitting for a matchup of this magnitude as the loser will likely face a talented Finnish team in the elimination round while the winner will kick up their heels and enjoy a field trip day to the Monument of Friendship or whatever other whacky landmarks exist in Ufa.
The Russians, uncharacteristically, have struggled to score in the tournament and have only one skater in the top-10 in tournament scoring (Yakupov, T-7th). Conversely, Canada boasts 5 of the top-10 scorers (RNH 1, Strome 2, Huberdeau T-3, Scheifele T-3, and Rielly T-7).
What Russia has achieved is a tournament low 3 goals against thus far. This shouldn’t be a shock to those of you who watched the Subway Super Series as this Russian team has been likely the most defensively responsible groups that Russia has ever put forward.
Discipline will almost certainly be the name of the game as the Russian crowd will bring an exceptional atmosphere to the game and IIHF referees are incredibly impressionable; two teams have already accused Canada of being dirty and I’m sure the officials are aware of this reputation.
Boone Jenner and JC Lipon return to the lineup and while I would expect Lipon’s icetime to be limited after a poor first game as well as a warranted suspension and major penalty in his second game, Jenner has the potential to be a real difference-maker in the Canada bottom-6 which frankly hasn’t provided much in the way of offense. Jenner wins, without exaggeration, over 70% of his faceoffs in the OHL and does a lot of little things well — a nice thing to add for a game against a team like Russia.
Ryan Murphy continues to be a defensive liability while not providing much in the way of competent offense either. He’s a better offensive player than he’s shown in these first three games but the defensive miscues are very much a part of what makes Murphy Murphy. If I were Spott, I’d be limiting his icetime pretty seriously against a team like Russia who both rely and are extremely effective on the counter attack.
So here we are, fully rested and ready for another great Canada / Russia matchup. Updates will come at the intermission, technology permitting.
1st Intermission Update
The Russians definitely got the better of Canada at even strength in the first. The Canadian defense still looks lost on their in-zone coverage and the Russians have been burning them all over the place.
Fortunately for Canada, 2013 eligible Nichushkin took a 5-minute major for checking from behind and the kids took advantage.
The game’s opening goal was on the aforementioned powerplay as Dougie Hamilton teed up a heck of a slapshot from the point. I’m not sure whether it was slightly tipped or not but either way, it was a heck of a shot.
Canada’s second goal came on the same powerplay. Scheifele made a pretty impressive skate-to-skate-to-stick play and then put the puck into the yawning cage, giving Canada the 2-0 lead.
Russia put one of the board after Scheifele overhandled the puck in his own zone, getting bumped off the puck by the Russian forecheck. The puck went straight from Scheifele’s stick to the front of the net where Kucherov grabbed it and let off a pretty impressive wrister that beat Subban.
Canada will need to tighten up if it hopes to win this game. Two more periods like that one and the Russians will win the group.