With players on NHL contracts set to miss the upcoming Olympics, tournaments such as the Sochi Hockey Open offer Team Canada a chance to get an early look at the talent available to them for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. And while the skill level of some of the world’s best may be missing from the squad, the passion and fire that comes with taking on an international rival certainly isn’t.
On Monday, in their second outing of the group stage at the Sochi Hockey Open, Canada squared off against Team Russia-2 and the contest held true to form for any matchup between the two nations. The outing was hotly contested, the final score close and the penalty minutes plentiful. In Russia’s 3-2 victory, the two teams combined for 64 penalty minutes as tempers flared throughout the outing.
In the first period, a jousting match between Brandon Kozun and Stanislav Galiyev, who recently departed from the Washington Capitals, resulted in a pair of slashing minors, which was followed late in the frame by matching roughing minors to Maxim Noreau and Ilya Lyubushkin. But things really boiled over in the second frame.
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After the two sides combined for 22 penalty minutes through 20 minutes, including a 10-minute misconduct to Mason Raymond, a melee broke out in front of the Canadian bench after Eric O’Dell dropped a Russian player who was heading off the ice for a line change. The line brawl saw several players shed their gloves, including Justin Azevedo and Mikhail Grigorenko, who were both tagged with fighting majors for their involvement in the dustup. In addition, Noreau and Lyubushkin renewed hostilities with another pair of roughing minors, while Russia also landed a bench minor for too many men. O’Dell, while off the ice during the fight, was assessed an interference minor.
After the heated second period, though, the two teams settled in for the third frame without much incident. Two stick infractions were handed out throughout the final period, but cooler heads prevailed as Russia, on the strength of goaltender Igor Shestyorkin’s 34 saves, hung on for the win. Galiev, Artyom Fyodorov and Roman Lyubimov were the goal scorers for Russia, while Noreau and Gilbert Brule tallied for Canada. Netminder Kevin Poulin stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced.
“For all of us, it's always really important to beat Canada,” Russian coach Oleg Bratash said following the game. “We did a good job today. There was a large brawl in the game, but we're not afraid of anyone.”
With the victory, Russia moved to 2-0 in the tournament and advanced to Wednesday’s gold medal game, while Canada will move on to play Metallurg Magnitogorsk for bronze. Canada’s lone win of the tournament came when Jesse Blacker scored minutes into overtime to hand the Canadians a 1-0 victory over HC Sochi to open the tournament.
Canada is using the Sochi Hockey Open to evaluate the talent available to the national team for the Olympics. Kozun, with two assists, is currently the leading scorer, with Azevedo, Raymond, Blacker, Brule, Noreau and Andrew Ebbett each tied with one point. Goaltender Justin Peters pitched a 23-save shutout against Sochi.
Canadian coach Willie Desjardins, as well as GM Sean Burke, will further evaluate talent at the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov, which begins Aug. 14 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Canadians won’t have another meeting with the Russian national team, however, as the field is filled out with five KHL sides, including SKA Neva, Jokerit Helsinki, HC Sochi, Severstal Cherepovets and host SKA St. Petersburg.
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