Photo: Steve Hiscock
By Josh Sweetland/CHL
Saskatoon, SK - Solid goaltending, punishing physicality, pesky goalposts and an eleven round shootout marathon effectively etched another chapter in the book of great Canada/Russia hockey encounters on Monday night at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. Vladimir Bryukvin scored the decisive goal for Russia in the eleventh round of the shootout to give them a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the 2014 SUBWAY® Super Series over Team WHL.
The Russian victory was certainly a display of resilience as they were outshot 36-15 and had help from a few third period goalposts before Konstantin Okulov tied the score with 1:17 remaining in the third period to push a shootout.
A pair of goals bookended the first period as Russia came out of the gate with a goal on the first shot of the game. Defenceman Alexander Bryntsev, who has yet to score a goal in 20 KHL games this season, beat goaltender Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans on a low wrister through the legs from just inside the blueline 38 seconds into action.
The wind was taken out of the Russian sails just a couple shifts later though. 19 year-old forward Maxim Mamin went hard into the end boards after taking a hit from defenceman Joe Hicketts. Mamin was carted off on a stretcher and did not return to the game.
Team WHL stepped up the offense in the ensuing shifts as Kootenay Ice forward and WHL captain Sam Reinhart narrowly missed a glorious chance from the high slot on a pass from Morgan Kilmchuk. Defenceman Madison Bowey was thwarted by the blocker of Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin on the WHL's first powerplay of the evening moments later.
Shesterkin put forth a strong first period performance, making 13 saves with several of those coming on high quality chances. Shesterkin kicked out the pad inside the final five minutes of the first on a waiting Jaedon Descheneau in the slot, turning aside a one-timer.
The WHL solved Shesterkin inside the final minute of the first though, with the vision of Victoria Royals defenceman Joe Hicketts sparking a goal. Hicketts gathered the puck inside the offensive blueline before slinging a slap-pass across the zone to a waiting Jake Virtanen who didn't hesitate on the release to tie the score at one with 55 seconds to spare in the first.
A scoreless second period wasn't without its scoring chances as Comrie was forced into action early. A creative play from below the goal line by Russian forward Andrey Alexeev resulted in a point blank opportunity for Vladimir Bryukvin in the slot. Comrie was well positioned to make a butterfly save and keep the score tied.
The WHL had plenty of quality puck possession in the second despite the shot clock reading just 6-3 in their favour over the course of the period. John Quenneville had his hard wrist shot off the rush denied by the glove of Shesterkin while defenceman Josh Morrissey jumped up into the action in the final minute of the second to be stopped by the shoulder of the Russian netminder.
A third period of ups and downs saw the WHL squad with victory seemingly in its clutches, only to have that thought snuffed out by several goalposts and timely saves from Shesterkin in the Russian goal. The west outshot Russia 14-3 in the third period, with chances coming from a variety of sources.
The Brandon Wheat Kings connection of Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville with the added presence of Jake Virtanen had a productive third frame as Quenneville was set up for a point blank chance in the slot by Virtanen but could not convert. Team WHL Head Coach Dave Lowry also turned to the trio of Sam Reinhart, Greg Chase and Morgan Klimchuk frequently in the third period's final stages.
Big blueliner Dillon Heatherington hit iron with four and a half minutes to play in the third before Tyson Baillie and Conner Bleackley doubled up on nice chances that got turned aside.
Team WHL finally got the break it was looking for with 2:25 remaining. Cole Ully camped out to the right of the Russian goal to swat home a rebound off the pad of Shesterkin that was created by Travis Sanheim's point shot. Ully gave the WHL a 2-1 lead with only a few shifts left in the game.
Russia, it turns out, would make the most of those final few gasps as Konstantin Okulov, who was a presence on the puck throughout the entire game, put Russia on his shoulders. The shifty centreman pushed a puck towards the boards off an offensive zone faceoff, only to swoop in and collect it himself as he muscled his way to the goal to beat Comrie under the armpit with 1:17 to spare.
The Russian equalizer took the buzz out of the 5,383 on hand at the SaskTel Centre as the game headed to an unexpected shootout.
With Morgan Klimchuk set to shoot first for the WHL, Russian Head Coach Valery Bragin took a major gamble, replacing goaltender Igor Shesterkin who made 34 saves in the game with 19 year-old Denis Kostin off the bench. Kostin, a rookie in the KHL this season, was promptly beaten through the legs on the first shot by Kilmchuk, but grew stronger as the shootout wore on.
A marathon of eleven shooters saw WHL goals from Klimchuk, Brayden Point and John Quenneville while the Russians responded with markers from Nikita Scherbak, Ivan Fishchenko and Pavel Kraskovsky.
With Greg Chase denied in the eleventh round, the game sat on the stick of former Rimouski Oceanic forward Vladimir Bryukvin who made no mistake in slipping a forehand toe drag deke inside the post past Comrie for the deciding goal.
The 3-2 shootout victory gives Russia a 2-1 lead in points to begin the 2014 SUBWAY® Super Series.
Cole Ully scored a big goal with 2:25 remaining in the third, only to have Russia scramble back to tie the score at two. He credited goaltender Eric Comrie on Sportsnet following the game. "Anytime a shootout goes that many rounds it's going to be a tough loss to swallow," he said. "We got some great saves from Comrie in the shootout. I guess it's just the way things go sometimes. We'll be ready for a physical game on Tuesday."
"I thought we played well tonight," said Brandon Wheat Kings forward Jayce Hawryluk who had an assist for Team WHL. "We had a lot of shots and we directed traffic to the net. They got some good goaltending from their guys tonight. It's a tough one to lose after playing so well, but we're going to come out even harder tomorrow night."
The series shifts to Brandon on Tuesday when the puck drops at the Keystone Centre at 7:00pm ET. It's the first SUBWAY® Super Series game in Brandon since 2003 when Team WHL defeated Russia 7-1.
Be sure to catch Tuesday night's action live on Sportsnet Ontario, Pacific and 360, TVA Sports and Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
For more information including how to purchase tickets please visit www.subwaysuperseries.ca.