In the world of sports, you often hear about someone’s misfortune being someone else’s good fortune.
Before meeting a touring Russian side in Game 1 of this year’s Super Series, there was Team WHL head coach Dave Lowry on that subject, saying: “That creates opportunities for other guys who might have been overlooked. Everybody says injuries provide opportunities and now it’s a great chance for some of these guys.”
Left-winger Collin Shirley of the Kamloops Blazers was one of those guys and — oh, boy! — did he take advantage of
An injury replacement added to the Team WHL lineup on Sunday, Shirley scored once and drew three assists in a 7-3 victory over the Russians in Kelowna on Monday night.
The series resumes tonight in Kamloops at the Sandman Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.
Shirley, who is from Saskatoon, leads the Blazers with 10 goals. A 19-year-old who was selected by the Kootenay Ice with the 17th overall pick of the 2011 bantam draft, his problem, as it is with a lot of young players, has been finding consistency. As a result, his exposure in Hockey Canada or international situations has been limited pretty much to the U-17 WHC in 2012 when he had one assist in five games.
He put all that behind him last night as he helped Team WHL get off to a 6-0 second-period lead. Playing on a line with centre Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors, who is the WHL’s leading scorer, and Deven Sideroff, another roster addition from the Blazers, Shirley was in on four of his side’s first five goals.
Shirley came within a point of the CHL record for most points in one Super Series game. Defenceman Alexandre Picard, then of the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, had five points on Nov. 24, 2003. Shirley is one of eight CHL players to have had four points in a game.
Noting that last night’s game was played before a capacity crowd of 6,258, Sideroff is hoping for a similar showing tonight in his home arena.
“Our last game against PG, we had a good showing,” he said, referring to the 4,076 fans who watched the Blazers beat the Prince George Cougars 5-2 on Saturday. “Here, tonight, the fans were awesome. It’ll be interesting to see. Maybe with me and Deven in there, there might be a few more fans come and see. It’s real exciting to be going back to Kamloops for (Tuesday).”
Point, who leads the WHL with 39 points in 16 games, had a goal and two assists. Sideroff, from Summerland, was held pointless but, like Shirley, finished plus-3.
“I got two pretty quick linemates who were creating a lot of room for me, and I was able to take advantage of it a little bit,” Point said. “Our first two periods were really good, we were able to jump on them and generate a lot of scoring chances. We were just working hard and playing simple, winning a lot of races to pucks and winning a lot of battles in their end.”
Point told Lucas Punkari of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald that he and Shirley were line mates on a team at the NHLPA-hosted 2011 Allstate All-Canadians event “and it was nice to get that chemistry going again with him.”
During the second intermission, Shirley told Rob Faulds of Sportsnet that Point is “a great player to be with out there. “I have to give him all the credit for my performance tonight."
The WHL took a 2-0 lead into the second period, on goals from defencemen Kale Clague of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Noah Juulsen of the Everett Silvertips, with Shirley in on both of them.
When Point scored at 6:39 of the second period — yes, Shirley drew an assist — the Russians yanked starting goaltender Maxim Tretiak and sent in Alexander Trushkov. Tretiak stopped 15 shots.
Trushkov didn’t fare much better, as Red Deer Rebels forward Conner Bleackley beat him at 8:11 and Shirley scored off a great feed from Point at 11:40.
Forward Jansen Harkins of the Cougars got the home team’s sixth goal at 12:59 of the second period.
The Russians cut their deficit in half on third-period goals by Kirill Tsulygin, Artur Lauta and Radel Fazleev, who plays for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen.
However, the WHL ended any Russian thoughts of an amazing comeback when defenceman Dysin Mayo of the Edmonton Oil Kings scored a power-play goal at 16:02.
Goaltender Zach Sawchenko of Moose Jaw stopped all nine shots he faced before being replaced by Carter Hart of Everett, who turned aside six of nine shots.
“I really liked the way, for 40 minutes, we controlled the pace of the game,” Dave Lowry, Team WHL’s head coach, said. He also is the head coach of the Victoria Royals and Canada’s national junior team. “(Russia) played the third period the way that we expected them to start the game. They started to push it our way and we played on our heels a little bit but, at the end of the day, you can’t really not like the effort and the result.”
This series, as usual, is being used to get a look at players before invitations are issued to Canada’s selection camp in December in Calgary.
“There’s always pressure to win, and that’s why we do this,” said Lowry, who served as an assistant coach under Benoit Groulx on the gold medal-winning Canadian team at the 2015 tournament.
“We know the importance of the world junior championship to Hockey Canada,” he continued. “We, as a staff, relish that challenge, and we know the players really embrace it.”
One of those players is defenceman Joe Hicketts of Kamloops, who will captain Team WHL in his hometown tonight. Hicketts, who captains Lowry’s Royals, is one of three potential returnees to Team Canada, the others being Point, who was the 13th forward, and forward Lawson Crouse of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Last night, Hicketts had two assists, was physical and was plus-3. Yes, he knows what’s on the line.
“You can’t take your spot for granted,” Hicketts said. “There are a lot of great players, not only in our league, but across the Canadian Hockey League and even in other leagues.”
Lowry will travel to Owen Sound, Windsor, Rouyn-Noranda and Halifax for the final four games in the series because he wants to see all of the players in person.
“With these (WHL) players, there is some familiarity . . . but it’ll be the same mindset we had last year — we’re going to take the best players regardless of where they’re from,” Lowry said. “Any time you get to see the players live, it really brings it to fruition.”
The head coach definitely liked what he saw of Point.
“Brayden’s been one of the best players in our league the whole season,” Lowry said. “He’s been through the experience of winning and what it entailed as the 13th forward last year, and he’s bringing that here.”
One other player Lowry liked last night was forward Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets. He spent most of the game on a line with Harkins and Reid Gardiner of the Prince Albert Raiders.
“Nick played his game,” Lowry said. “He is an offensive guy, but tonight he created, and he brings energy and he knows how to play the game the right way.”
Merkley said: “It was fun to play at that pace . . . obviously I wanted to get on the scoresheet and I thought I had a few chances, but just didn’t bury them.”
— with files from Larry Fisher, Kelowna Daily Courier
If you want more on Team WHL-Russia and even some WHL notes, click right here.