Team WHL completed a two-game sweep of Team Russia on Tuesday night at the Sandman Centre and forwards Collin Shirley and Deven Sideroff of the Kamloops Blazers played major roles.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way but, hey, sometimes life doesn’t follow a script.
The WHLers beat the Russians 4-2 last night, on the heels of Monday’s 7-3 victory in Kelowna.
The Russians now head east where the series is scheduled to continue with games in Owen Sound (Thursday), Windsor (Monday), Rouyn-Noranda (Tuesday) and Halifax (Nov. 19). Neither Shirley, 19, nor Sideroff, 18, was on the WHL’s original roster for the 2015 Canada Russia Series. However, a couple of weekend injuries opened up two roster spots and, just like that, they both were on the team.
All Shirley did was set a WHL record for most points (5) in one series. The Saskatoon native had a goal and three assists
in the series opener, then picked up an assist last night. That record had been held by forward Brodie Dupont of the Calgary Hitmen, who had four points in 2006.
“This turned out better than I expected,” a smiling Shirley said. “Obviously, I was coming in as a late guy and kind of just focused on playing simple and not doing too much. I have to give a ton of credit to the guys in the room. They made it quite easy for me and without them I wouldn’t have even come close.”
Sideroff, who scored last night’s nicest goal, added: “I’m ecstatic for (Shirley). What he did is amazing.”
One night earlier, the WHL had jumped all over the visitors, getting out to a 6-0 second-period lead in the process. That wasn’t the case in this one.
“They came out way more tight checking,” Shirley said. “They were flying out there to start. It was a lot more physical out there. They got off to a good start but in the latter half of the game we picked it up and adapted.”
With time winding down in the third period, the teams were 2-2 and playing not to make a mistake.
That’s when winger Jayce Hawryluk of the Brandon Wheat Kings went into his buzz-saw routine as forward Radel Fazleev struggled to control the puck at the Russian line. Fazleev, who plays for the Calgary Hitmen, wanted to throw the puck to a defenceman on the other side of the ice. However, Hawryluk got into his kitchen and stole the puck, then raced in alone on goaltender Maxim Tretiak.
“They tried going d to d,” Hawryluk said. “I just read the play and cut it off. I came in and was looking top corner the whole time. He gave me a little bit of room up there and I fired away. Luckily enough, it went in.”
There still was 3:13 to play, but the WHL had had a strong third period — witness the 12-5 edge in shots — and never was in real trouble after that. Except for a save goaltender Adin Hill of the Portland Winterhawks made off Semyon Afonasevsky from the lip of the crease with 30 seconds left.
Left-winger Brett Pollock of the Edmonton Oil Kings sealed it with an empty-netter moments later.
“That was the game we were expecting,” said Team WHL head coach Dave Lowry, who also serves as head coach of the WHL’s Victoria Royals and Canada’s national junior team. “We were real pleased with our group tonight. We stayed with it and I thought that we got better as the game went on. We created opportunities when we started to skate.
“When we were able to establish our forecheck we started to take over the game.”
The Russians showed early that they were ready for this one, with left-winger Artur Lauta testing Hill’s glove hand just 23 seconds into the game.
In Monday’s loss, where they had a three-goal third period, it appeared to take the Russians two periods to shake off the effects of their 30-hour flight to Vancouver and the bus ride to Kelowna. That wasn’t the case last night as they had their legs early.
“I thought they came out harder to start the game here,” winger Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets said of the Russians. “They carried over a bit of what they did in the third period (on Monday). I thought we played hard and battled back. We had a bit of a slow start but we kind of took over in the third period. We definitely amped it up in the second and third.”
After a scoreless first period that was dominated by icing calls, the teams shared four second-period goals.
Team WHL got on the board first as Jansen Harkins of the Prince George Cougars deposited a rebound behind Tretiak, who was much, much better in this one than in Game 1.
Russia took its first lead of the series midway through the period, with defenceman Sergey Zborovskiy, who plays for the WHL’s Regina Pats, snapping home a loose puck from the slot at 9:55.
Then, just 43 seconds later, Egor Yakovlev, who plays for Admiral Vladivostok in the KHL, danced around defender Kale
Clague of the Wheat Kings and wired a low shot to Hill’s longside.
The lead was short-lived — it lasted 41 seconds — as Sideroff drove to the net from the left side, went backhand to forehand and, with Tretiak down and out, tucked the puck into the open net. Sideroff’s linemates, Shirley and Seattle Thunderbirds centre Mathew Barzal, drew the assists.
“It was a great goal,” Don Hay, the Blazers head coach and an assistant with Team WHL, said. “Great effort. (Shirley) started the play by knocking the puck down. Barzal made a real nice pass to (Sideroff) and he was able to bury it. Good composure.
“I thought they played well 5-on-5, killing penalties . . . they looked very confident.”
When Sideroff scored, most of the fans — there were a few Russian sweaters in evidence — came out of their seats and roared, and the Blazers’ goal song, Takin’ Care of Business, blared from the speakers.
“That felt amazing when I heard the (reaction),” Sideroff said.
Sideroff, who missed the first nine games of the Blazers’ season as he recovered from mononucleosis, felt he played pretty well in the two games.
“You stick to your own game, doing whatever you can,” he said in describing his approach. “Play your hardest but play your own game. Like the coaches said, we’re all here for a reason and you’re here for what you’ve done well this season so far.”
Hockey Canada uses these games to evaluate players before invitations are issued to the national junior team selection camp. So does Sideroff dare to dream?
“That’s in the air but it’s in the back of my mind,” the native of Summerland said. “I don’t 100 per cent expect it . . . it would be a shock to me . . . but it would be really exciting.”
Tretiak, who was yanked from Monday’s game after allowing three goals on 15 shots and playing even worse than that, finished with 35 saves. Hill went the distance for Team WHL, stopping 18 shots.
And in the end the WHL has handed a 2-0 lead to Team OHL.
“We wanted to make sure that we gave them some good games,” Lowry said. “It’s nice that we won and our guys did a real good job.”
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 5,278. . . . Each team was 0-for-1 on the power play. . . . All games in the series are being televised by Sportsnet. . . . Team Russia headed back to Kelowna via bus immediately after last night’s game. It will fly out this morning as it journeys east to resume the series. . . . The WHL schedule, having been silent since Saturday night, resumes today with four games — Red Deer at Brandon, Vancouver at Kelowna, Portland at Tri-City and Everett at Spokane. . . . The Red Deer Rebels had three players in last night’s game, while the Brandon Wheat Kings had four, along with GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon. They all are to fly out of Kamloops this morning and, if on schedule, will arrive in Brandon at 1 p.m., in lots of time for the game.