EDMONTON — The Western Hockey League All Stars told themselves they had played pretty well in Game 1 of the CIBC Canada Russia Series Monday night in Prince George.
Sure, they had lost 3-2 on a sketchy overtime goal. But they were the better team — or so they believed.
On Tuesday they proved it, turning a 1-1 second intermission tie into a 4-1 victory to even the series at one game apiece, and taking a 3-2 lead in points as the CHL baton gets passed to the Ontario Hockey League.
Here are eight takeaways from Game 2 at Rogers Place Tuesday, a dandy game between two evenly matched junior squads.
More of the Same
Team WHL head coach Tim Hunter didn’t exactly stand pat with his lines, but he showed faith in his lineup and was rewarded Tuesday.
"We made some changes with the lineup. The way our lines were," said Hunter. "It didn’t work on the power play, but it sure worked five-on-five. Pretty much (played) the same game though."
Down 4-1 with seconds to play, the Russians were looking to goon it up before the final buzzer. In a switch of the traditional roles, Team WHL turned the other cheek.
"We were disappointed they took that route to end the game, being down 4-1," he said. "We tried to show as much class as we could and I’m proud of my guys for doing that."
In his hometown, and in the building the Oilers draft pick hopes to make a living in one day, Tyler Benson was the player of the game with a goal and two assists for the WHL. He’d been very quiet in Game 1.
"I felt good, like our line was going pretty good," said Benson, who was on a line with Tyler Soy and Austin Wagner. He set up the game’s first goal, and capped his night with an empty-netter off a generous pass from Arizona draft pick Nick Merkley.
"Every time I come back to Edmonton I get excited to play here," said Benson, who knows this was a big chance to make an impression for Canada’s team at the world juniors. "You’re going to want have a good showing (because) you know the brass is here. But they’re going to still be watching games, so you’ve got to make sure you’re still playing hard."
"I’m starting to get my game back," said Benson, an Edmonton native who has spent a lot time on the injured list over the past couple of seasons. "It was a tough start again this year with the shoulder injury (hurt in pre-season). But the past few weeks I’ve been getting my legs back, starting to get chemistry with my own team. I think I’m starting to play well now."
The Big Audition
Sam Steel is just one of the many juniors here who are hoping to make an impression on Hockey Canada for an invitation to the world junior camp.
"We’re all trying to win, but a lot of guys are auditioning for a job come Christmas time, too," said the Regina Pats centreman, who went pointless Tuesday. "There’s a lot of talent on the teams; the intensity has been really high. There’s always been pressure. I try not to worry about it. Just go out there, play hockey."
He plays in Regina with Russian defenceman Sergey Zborovskiy, and went to the trouble of asking him for some intel. "He didn’t give up too much," laughed Steel.
In the first seven years of this series, from 2003-09, the Canadian Hockey League won seven straight series, racking up a record of 36-4-2. From 2010-15, however, the CHL lost three of the six series to Russia, and watched the Russians win Game 1 this year.
Russia has won Game 1 in five of the past seven series, and have won four of the those series overall.
"Hi. My name is…"
The Western Hockey League players came together Sunday evening in Prince George, B.C., most having played for their club teams on Friday and Saturday nights. They had a brief meeting that night, a light morning skate Monday, "and then dropped the puck" for a 3-2 OT loss to Russia in the series opener, said assistant coach Steve Hamilton.
Hockey Canada advises the coaching staff on what kind of system they want played, coinciding with the system they’ll install for the upcoming world junior team, and Hamilton was pretty impressed with how his players handled it. The WHL outshot Russia 34-21 in Monday’s OT loss.
"It speaks to their coachability," said Hamilton, the Edmonton Oil Kings head coach. "I thought overall, the guys were pretty sharp."
"We just had one morning skate to get together with line mates," added Benson. "We didn’t really know the opponents either."
Rename the Game
As the new title sponsor of this series, CIBC is hoping to put a new name on the CHL’s international series. From Nov. 7-17 you can vote from a list of selected online entries by visiting chlcanadarussia.ca/renamethegame.
But we thought we’d get an early start, so we canvassed Twitter during the game and came up with these gems:
• The CIBC RubleLoonie Cup
• The CIBC Poutine-Putin Series
• The Gord Downie Trophy
Sage Advice for Hunter
Former Calgary Flames enforcer Tim Hunter has been the head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors for three years now, after spending 14 years as an NHL assistant coach in Washington, San Jose and Toronto. He is the head coach of Team WHL here.
As a player, he had over 3,000 penalty minutes in 815 NHL games. His role in the game found him as much as he found it, back when he was a young player.
"John Brophy told me in my first year as a pro," he told me once. "‘You have two chances of playing in the NHL. One, be the best winger in the Central Hockey League. Or two, be the meanest mother in the Central Hockey League.’
"And then he says, ‘And I think the second one is your best choice,’" Hunter laughed. "I said, ‘Broph, don’t you think we can try for both?’ He says, ‘Yeah, we can try for both. But I still think the second one is your best choice.’"
Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last
The Sportsnet boys had the lucky ticket for the 50/50 in Prince George on Monday night, as R.J. Broadhead, Sam Cosentino, Rob Faulds and stats man Thomas Richardson cashed in a $19,200 windfall. They play at every stop along the CHL trail, and split $18,000 evenly Monday.
"We call it contributing to the local community," said Faulds. "We’ll send the extra $1,200 back to the Prince George charity that benefited from Monday’s draw."
Who says nice guys finish last?