Buffalo, New York — None of them were aesthetically pleasing, but nobody ever said anything about Canada being a pretty team, and nobody in the roaring sea of red fans was heard to complain about the quality of a single Canadian goal.
Canada’s self-described blue-collar team worked, hit, crashed and banged its way back onto the international stage with a workmanlike effort against Russia in its first game at the 2011 IIHF world junior championship, winning 6-3 before a wildly partisan crowd at HSBC Arena.
“I think every guy in that room could care less if they make a highlight reel down the road or not,” Canadian captain Ryan Ellis said. “We’re just excited to score goals. You can see the celebrations out there — we’re pretty dramatic, like no one’s ever scored before.”
As had been the case in each of Canada’s warm-up games, not one of the 22 teenagers on the roster established himself as a star. Six different players scored for Canada, which lost the gold-medal game in overtime against the United States last year in Saskatoon.
And it felt like another home game for the Canadians on Sunday. Both of the arena’s main bowls were dominated with red — sprinkled with Canadians who booed the American flag when it was shown on the big screen near the end of the game, promoting the upcoming U.S. game against Finland.
Canadian head coach Dave Cameron juggled many of the lines he used during the team’s three pre-tournament games, all of which had ended in victory. He reunited his top line, with Brayden Schenn between Louis Leblanc and Jaden Schwartz, but opted to throw the rest of his forwards into a blender for their first meaningful game together.
None of them had the kind of raw, electric skill Canada has employed in the past. Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene and others were all eligible to participate, if not for the minor hurdle of their gainful employment in the National Hockey League.
Cameron was left instead to choose the kind of team he values, anyway. His roster is big — the second-biggest Canada has ever taken to the tournament, with an average height of six-foot-one and an average weight of 199 pounds — and stocked with responsible players.
Marcus Foligno might have been the ideal of Cameron’s vision, which made it fitting that he scored Canada’s first goal of the tournament. The 19-year-old was the biggest surprise at the Canadian selection camp, earning a spot with the same hard-charging mentality that led him to the side of the net to tip in a power-play goal late in the first period.
“I think every guy in that room could care less if they make a highlight reel down the road or not. We’re just excited to score goals. You can see the celebrations out there — we’re pretty dramatic, like no one’s ever scored before.” - Canadian captain Ryan Ellis
Russia had taken the lead earlier in the period, on a goal by Maxim Kitsyn, and Canada’s reply seemed to set the tone for what was to come. The teams combined for four goals in the second period, with Russia answering each time Canada threatened to break through.
Ellis gave his side a 2-1 lead after he pump-faked on a shot at the blue-line. He fired purposely wide, and the shot bounced hard off the end boards and ricocheted off the back of Igor Bobkov’s left skate, beating the Russian goalie before he knew what happened.
Nikita Dvurechensky answered 76 seconds later.
Erik Gudbranson blasted a shot from the middle of the blue-line to give Canada a 3-2 lead later in the second. And, fewer than two minutes later, Danil Sobchenko took advantage of a Canadian penalty to beat a fully extended Olivier Roy to tie the game heading into the third period of what was quickly becoming another classic chapter in one of hockey’s storied rivalries.
Ryan Johansen gave the Canadians a 4-3 lead with another power-play goal early in the third period, off another scramble play in front. Johansen and Bobkov met face-to-face with another Russian in the penalty box a few minutes later, this time as Schenn popped the puck past the goalkeeper.
“That’s our team’s game, just trying to wear the other teams down,” Schenn said. “We just try to play a tough game. Maybe that’s a thing, but we’re not exactly sure how it plays out.”
Canada has a day off on Monday — or, at least, a day away from the pressure of a game — and returns to HSBC Arena to face the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
“Scoring by committee and teamwork is what we’re all about,” Ellis said. “We don’t look for any individuals to do it themselves. And I think the six goals by six different guys is huge for us, and if we can keep this up, we’ll be doing OK.”
More World Junior coverage, page C4