Team Russia shows grit in Game 3 of the CIBC Canada-Russia Series

Russia coughed up a 3-1 lead but eventually beat the OHL 4-3.

After a tough back-to-back in the WHL to start the CIBC Canada-Russia Series, a Game 2 that ended sour and a 15-hour travel day Wednesday, the barnstorming Russians (those not joining from each of the three CHL leagues), entered their first contest against Team OHL battle-tested and road weary.

In what can only be called a hard-fought, physical game, Team Russia, buttressed by a handful of countrymen from the OHL, managed to grind out a 4-3, Game 3 victory in North Bay, Ont. The Russians showed mettle. And while Team OHL was dangerous at times—mostly with the man advantage—it couldn’t sustain any real 5-on-5 pressure. (Of course, this paragraph was written seconds before the OHL tied it 3-3, at even strength. But my point remains.)

(And then Russia went up 4-3! And my lede stood.)

There are a few top-of-the-roster Russians eligible for the world juniors who aren’t playing in this series, but it’s fair to say that there’s a good base of depth coming together this November in Canada. That’s not to say there isn’t top-end talent Canada can tap into as well, but Russia has impressed more.

A few other takeaways:

The four Steelheads
Nathan Bastian (41st to NJ in 2016) was most noticeable for a big hit (more on that later). He was joined by New Jersey first-rounder Michael McLeod and two 2017 NHL Draft eligibles in sniper Owen Tippett and hulking blueliner Nic Hague. McLeod and Tippett both featured on the first power-play unit, with Hague helping to run the second five. McLeod and Tippett combined for a goal, two helpers and seven shots, flashed high-end skill and were on in the final minute as Team OHL pushed for a game-tying goal.

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OHLers on Team Russia
There were four: Ottawa’s Artur Tyanulin (four shots), Sarnia’s Nikita Korostelev (two shots), Sudbury’s Dmitry Sokolov (the game-winner) and Windsor defenceman Mikhail Sergachev (plus-1). The forwards were at the centre of action for much of the night. Sergachev was a calm, cool and collected giant on the back end. Like Mosse Jaw’s hulking winger Nikita Popugaen Monday and Tuesday, they all showed some intriguing traits.

Draft eligibles
At the top end of the 2017 NHL Draft board, Tippett and Hague were joined by Windsor’s Gabe Vilardi and Russia’s Klim Kostin. Viladri—11 months younger than Nolan Patrick, the early favourite to go No. 1 in June—was largely a non-factor. Klostin impressed more in Prince George and Edmonton earlier in the week.

Taking the body
No doubt it was a physical affair, with, not for trying, Team Russia taking more hits than it dished out—a few Russians began flinging themselves around the ice as the game went on. But the hit of the night went to Bastian.

Fatkullin, 19, got up, and later looked destined for the showers again after blocking a shot defending on a power play near the end of the second, but refused to leave the ice. He finished plus-2.

And there’s The Rub
After writing Monday that Philadelphia first-rounder German Rubtsov had disappointed, he scored two goals Thursday to stick it to any detractors. The first was a little lucky, but on the second he showed good patience. He remained dangerous throughout the game and was taking draws at the end while his team was protecting its lead.

Finishing in style
As mentioned earlier, there are some key players missing from this Russian squad. But it still found a way to score four times, restore a blown lead and play a suffocating shutdown game: killing a 5-on-3 to to begin the third, penning its opponent in its own end for an eternity while while a man down with four minutes to play, keeping the OHL from generating much during a 6-5 advantage and finishing the game off down two men after a delay-of-game minor with 22 seconds to play.

This group of Russian under-20s proved its grit. And Monday in Hamilton for Game 4, after a full slate of OHL league games, it will be the rested of the two sides.

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