The 2019 CIBC Canada-Russia series was thrilling until the end, and required a series tie-breaking shootout to determine whether the CHL or Russia won the six-game series.
With so much to cover from an exciting event, Sam Cosentino shares his 10 takeaways.
10. Extra-time: For the first time in 17 years of the series we had four games go into overtime or shootout. There had only been three overtime/shootout games combined in the past five series. The teams were so even, in fact, that the series itself needed a shootout to decide who the winner was.
9. From Russia to Quebec: It was clear the most offensively gifted Russians in the series play their regular season hockey in the QMJHL. Most notable was captain Alex Khovanov, who had a series-leading five points over two games, tying Calgary prospect and Rimouski star Dmitry Zavgordniy. Cape Breton’s Egor Sokolov didn’t have quite the same success, but he’s worked hard to improve his skating, and still produced a goal and an assist.
Charlottetown’s Nikita Alexandrov ended up spending his two games playing centre between the two draft eligibles, Khovanov and Zavgorodniy, and played a more responsible, defensive-minded game. I would say those two are locks to represent Russia at the world juniors.
8. P.A. Proud: I was so excited to get back to Prince Albert and the Art Hauser Centre. Our experience in the playoffs there last year was unique. Raiders fans were out tailgating and lining up hours before games en route to their WHL title. New lights, a brand new scoreboard and, one year later, the Raiders are in first place in the Eastern Division. What impressed me most is that the Hauser sold out despite there not being one Raider in the lineup. In each of the other five host cities, at least one team representative participated in the game.
7. Picky/Choosy: It’s always tricky for Russian coach Valery Bragin to determine which players to select for the series. Traditionally, the CIBC Canada-Russia series coincides with a Four Nations tournament in Europe and as a result, some of Russia’s best world junior eligibles are selected to play in that event. We’ve learned from Bragin that when the series is on international ice, he’ll send a slightly better group to the Four Nations, but when the tournament is in North America, he tends to select a slightly better team to play in the CIBC. Having said that, despite Russia not having the best group available, the competition was more than enough for Hockey Canada and each of the three member CHL leagues.
6. Bo Show: Team WHL had trouble getting things going in Game 5 of the series in Saskatoon. There seemed to be a lack of cohesion in the group, and scoring chances were at a premium. Midway through the third period, however, Colorado prospect Bowen Byram turned it up a notch, put the team on his back and ended up scoring with 21.6 seconds left on the clock. He was right back out there for overtime and ended up with the primary assist on Calen Addison’s game-winning marker. Quite frankly, Team WHL had no business winning the game, but the superstar effort from Byram made all the difference. Imagine him alongside Samuel Girard and Calder Cale next year in Colorado.
5. Interesting Change: Nice to see Dale Hunter behind the bench for all six games of the series. You can watch players on video and you can read reports, but nothing can tell you more about a player than interacting with him in a game setting. Looking at body language, being able to challenge players in difficult situations, and watching how players interact with one another in a team setting are all great indicators for a coach. Those indicators are best witnessed up close and personal as opposed to sitting high in the stands and evaluating from afar.
4. Goalie Out-Shootout: Valery Bragin has been known to make some interesting decisions in this series. No doubt he takes the series seriously, but he also likes to challenge his players in unique ways to see how they react. Bragin was up to his old tricks again Thursday night and for the second time in the history of the event he pulled a goalie during the shootout.
Starter Daniil Isayev won the sixth game of the series in a shootout, stopping three of four to win the game. But when a second shootout followed to decide the series winner, he allowed two goals on three shots before getting pulled in favour of Amir Miftakhov, who came in stone-cold and stopped the first three shooters he faced before falling victim to Nolan Foote’s winner. Hard to fathom someone sitting for 65 minutes and seven shooters before getting the tap. It almost worked.
3. The Players: This series allows myself and colleagues RJ Broadhead and Rob Faulds to really hunker down and spend time conversing with the players. From east to west, I continue to be impressed by the professionalism, maturity and confidence of these young men. Today’s players have come a long way from the quiet, shy ways I witnessed in my early years. Today’s youngsters are smart, funny, engaging and respectful. While there are many of them who will never get a chance to play in the NHL, it speaks to future leaders in other areas in life. My former baseball coach, ABCA Hall of Famer Hank Burbridge, used to always say, “baseball is a great vehicle for teaching life’s lessons.”
2. Evaluation Tool: In my 15 years of calling games in this event, it’s never been so tight. The five one-goal decisions speak to the evenness in competition. Sometimes we forget that it’s not just Hockey Canada making decisions on players, but Team Russia as well. Valery Bragin changed lines more than I can remember, and Dale Hunter used certain situations to challenge players in ways you might not consider in league play. From a Hockey Canada perspective, there’s no doubt this competition separated a few players from the pack both positively and negatively. Facing big, tough, physical teams that play with structure and take away time and space are all elements that make for honest evaluation.
1. Double Up: For the second time in the 17-year history of the series, we needed a shootout to decide the winner. Of course, it worked out that Russia won Game 6 in a shootout, thus tying the series at eight points apiece and forcing another shootout to decide the series.
It was fascinating to watch Team Russia win the game. There was not one iota of a celebration as they clearly had their eye on the prize. The lack of celebration made for some confusion amongst the officials, but because they huddled up at the penalty box it made people stay in their seats. Most of the attendees had no idea what was going on, so when the second shootout occurred and Team WHL won, it seemed odd that they lost the game but celebrated the series win.