Canada drops pre-tournament game to Russia
Team Russia celebrates Alexander Sharov goal against team Canada during a pre-tournament exhibition game ahead of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships at the Air Canada Centre on December 19, 2014. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)
Just a year ago Max Domi was deemed not good enough to be invited to the selection camp for Canada’s junior team.
Anthony Duclair wasn’t on Canada’s radar either.
Much has changed in 12 months.
The pair, on a line with centre Sam Reinhart, offensively was a force in a 2-1 exhibition game loss in overtime against Russia on Friday night.
Before a crowd of 18,114 at the Air Canada Centre, Domi, a star with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, created scoring chances with his speed and smarts.
Duclair, on loan from the New York Rangers, had the mentality of a player who has spent the past couple of months in the best hockey league on the planet. Duclair was sharp in the offensive zone and didn’t have trouble knowing when to throw a couple of big checks.
The drawback, and this was on just about every Canadian forward, was a general inability to beat Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin, a New York Islanders prospect. Canada peppered the netminder with 53 shots, while Zach Fucale benefitted from a strong defensive performance as he was called upon to make just 19 saves.
“We were working hard and having some fun out there, using our speed,” Domi said. “We came up a little short, but our whole team played awesome. Their goalie played a hell of a game.
“We established a lot of things we wanted to address, except for winning. That will come. It is better to go through that now when it is exhibition.”
Russia scored the winner at 3:41 of the extra period when Fucale gave up a big rebound. Nikolai Goldobin got to the puck first, and he centred to Alexander Sharov, who easily put it into an open net.
While Canada clearly would have been a little more comfortable had it scored with more regularity, it should be kept in mind that what could amount to the top line — Connor McDavid, Curtis Lazar and Nic Petan — watched from the box usually reserved for members of the Maple Leafs’ front office.
It’s probable that all three will play in Canada’s next exhibition game, on Sunday in Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre against Sweden.
Also scratched was defenceman Joe Hicketts.
Overall, Canada forechecked with tenacity and didn’t give Russia much space. Certainly, there was nothing to fault with the effort.
Canada took at 1-0 lead at 1:07 of the second period after a heck of a pass by Domi, who spotted defenceman Josh Morrissey moving into the slot.
Domi’s pass was tape to tape, and Morrissey didn’t hesitate before firing a shot over Sorokin’s right shoulder.
Domi’s father, Tie Domi, would have been lucky to have made such a good pass during his days as a Maple Leaf in the ACC. That’s not a shot at the old man, just a fact.
Russia tied the game 1-1 as Canadian defenceman Darnell Nurse served a holding minor. Nurse argued the call, but it was the right one, as he tackled Nikolai Goldobin inside the Canada blue line.
Fucale couldn’t control the puck and it bounced to the front, where Reinhart accidentally swatted it into the open net.
The goal came at 8:10 and was credited to Sergei Tolchinski.
Coach Benoit Groulx knows it remains early in the process as Canada gears up for the 2015 world junior, which starts on Dec. 26 when Canada plays Slovakia in Montreal.
“We skated well, we pushed the pace, we did a lot of good things with and without the puck,” Groulx said. “We had our chances. For a first game we are quite happy.”
What would Groulx change going forward?
“I think we have to be more (of a presence) in front of the net,” Groulx said. “We got better in the third period. We created more confusion in front of their goalie. We had clean chances for two periods, but not necessarily with a lot of heavy traffic in front of the goalie. It’s an area we can do better. We can work on it. For a first game, we thought we did a lot of good things. We have to make sure we bring those elements (consistently).”
Zach Fucale didn’t have much to do on Friday night, facing just 21 shots against Russia.
It’s how Canada drew it up.
The Russian forwards had few opportunities, and for a first time out, Canada’s defensive effort was impressive.
“I thought we kept a lot of those shots to the outside,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said.
“We were trying to limit shots from inside the house and right in front. We kept them out of the middle, played tough in front and I also thought we had great back pressure from our forwards which limited second and third chances, so that was good as well.”