On a night that featured 62 NHL prospects during the 17th edition of the CIBC Series, Team OHL hit the ice on Thursday night with an all-time record of 25-6-0-1. This comes after the QMJHL kicked things off with a win over Russia on Wednesday, that setting the stage for the 99th game in series history which would see the Russians face the OHL in two games.
Prior to the game, it was announced that last minute additions were made to the roster with Ottawa 67’s goaltender Cedric Andree stepping in to fill the spot of veteran backstop Jacob Ingham who was scratched after suffering an injury.
As well, Ryan Suzuki was out with backstop Nico Dows of the Storm taking his spot. Team OHL took the ice against Russia who’s record for the series stood at 34-60-1-3, meanwhile, they entered Thursday’s match with an even 1-1 split being had in New Brunswick. The Russian National Team has won the series four times since 2010, including a 11-7 victory in the contest last year.
For Team OHL, they are led by Dale Hunter, the co-owner, president and head coach of the London Knights. Not only that, but he’s a former NHL player as well and former head coach of the Washington Capitals. Hunter, who’s manning the bench, is overseeing talent during all six games while being joined on the bench by Jay McKee who is the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers.
As well, Andre Tourigny of the Ottawa 67’s is guiding the players through the the trip’s second leg, a move that will not only help him moving forward, but be crucial come December 26th. Much like Hunter, Tourigny is not just coaching these boys through the series, but he’s also scouting the promising talents that will make up Team Canada in Czech Republic next month.
On that end of the spectrum, Russia has won the World Juniors championship 13 times, the impressive list including a win in 2011 that saw them receive gold medal honours for their performance throughout the series. As for Team Canada, they have received and been awarded 12 medals, this including seven gold since 2011 as they seek a 13th in December. A new feature last year included nine OHL players on Team Canada’s roster. As the youth continue to prove themselves, the competition will see the OHL providing a larger Team Canada roster presence.
Speaking of which, this list includes projected second overall pick Quinton Byfield who is one of many highly touted NHL prospects who will be evaluated through his play with Team OHL. Joining him are players like Cole Perfetti, Ryan Merkley, Akil Thomas and Serron Noel amongst many more.
After practice on Thursday morning which allowed Team OHL to easily find their footing, it was all in their end early on after Russia was called for their first penalty. This would hand the youthful bunch of Canadian players their first power play of the series just five minutes in. Speaking of which, it took no time for Team OHL to find their way on the scoreboard as Ty Dellandrea put the puck by Daniil Isayev to hand his team a 1-0 lead over Russia. After a number of chances were made prior to, assists on the goal would be handed to both Jamie Drysdale and Quinton Byfield.
Once the game resumed after a quick stall of play at the 6:36 mark, it would be the Russians trading chances with Team OHL with both team’s invading one another’s zones respectively. After a three minute bout, Team OHL would find their groove once again as Ryan Merkley would begin a tic tac toe, sending the puck up the ice to Akil Thomas. Thomas, a Maple Leafs prospect, would handle the puck nearby Russia’s net, this allowing him to find Cole Perfetti who would bank it to double their lead. The goal, scored at 8:35, would put Team OHL ahead 2-0.
After making Nico Dows put in the effort midway through the first frame, Akil Thomas, back in Russia’s zone, would take a shot on Daniil Isayev, but go wide. This would see Artyom Zub receive the puck up along the boards, taking it down into OHL’s zone and missing the net on a shot of his own.
With the puck now floating around in Team Russia’s opposing zone, Team OHL would get back on the ball as Connor McMichael took a shot on Isayev. However, the shot attempt would be stopped and saved with 10:05 left remaining on the clock. Fast forward four minutes later with 6:27 left to play in the frame, the puck would be dropped from the left-side face-off dot in Team OHL’s zone to get some momentum going. The face-off would prove to work, at least for about a minute until Team OHL was called for holding, sending Ty Dellandrea off the ice to the penalty box.
With 5:44 left to play, this would hand Russia the man advantage, though it wouldn’t last for long as Jamie Drysdale and Ryan O’Rourke defended the zone and killed off the play. With 4:50 left to play now once the game returned to five-on-five, the puck would be dropped for another face-off, the draw taking place from OHL’s right-side dot. This would find some chemistry forming between the youth players representing Canada as Team OHL started looking persistent with multiple entries in Team Russia’s zone late.
With 3:55 remaining and the puck being dropped at centre ice, Team OHL would make the most of their chances, winning the draw and keeping puck off of the sticks of the Russian National Team. At this point in the period, Russia would continue to dig for their first goal, the OHL not letting up, but Russia playing the puck around them in their own zone. In the dying seconds of the frame, Nico Daws would stop an attempt, making a glove save to his right side, maintaining the OHL’s 2-0 lead. The short lived chance would be all they got as the clock died down and the siren sounded. The second period would come to an end with Team OHL leading in shots 12-9.
As the second period commenced, Russia would open the frame with a wrap-around, but Nico Dows, staying on his toes, would hold it steady and save the puck two minutes in. The Canadian goaltender would send it back into play, but not for long as it would be whistled down. This would be the first break called 3:36 into period two. After the game resumed, it would be the Russians heating up in a hurry with another shot made on Nico Daws, but tipped off his stick and around the boards.
Moving along just a moment later, Team OHL would take a hit to the boards, this followed by another brief stoppage in play two minutes later at the 15:33 mark. As the game continued to proceed, Team OHL would find their footing once again as Connor McMichael ripped a laser from the point, banking it by Isayev for the 3-0 lead. Quinton Byfield, at 13:20, would record the assist on Team OHL’s third goal. Following another whistled down play, a scuffle would break out in Team OHL’s zone as Ryan Merkley and Vasily Podkolzin would go head-to-head before being separated. As a result of the brawl, both would head to the box for a pair of roughing penalties.
With four-on-four play now in effect, Team OHL would come out firing, getting the puck out of their zone and sending it down to invade the opposition. While looking to top off the second with what would be their third goal of the game, that effort would be delayed at 10:36 when Ryan Merkley was called for slashing. This would hand him a penalty, ensuing a five-on-four bout for the Russians.
This would give them the opportunity to swing right back at the youthful Canadians, making Daws put in the work between the pipes with a number of chances at the 9:24 mark. With one last attempt on the goaltender, the puck would go high and wide missing the net, this being followed by a brief altercation on the right hand side of Team OHL’s net.
Moving forward just 17 seconds later with 9:07 left remaining on the clock, four-on-four would ensue once again as the Russian National Team was called for roughing. This would send Vasily Podkolzin off the ice for a two-minute penalty. Once back to even strength, Team OHL would find themselves in trouble when Sergei Telegin laid a hit along the boards on Ty Dellandrea in the opposing defensive zone. That would lead to another bench change which would draw the conclusion of night for Nico Daws.
At this point in the night, Cedric Andree would enter the crease so Dale Hunter could get a feeling of what to expect from both goaltenders respectively. With that in mind, the game would resume with just nine minutes left, this finding Team OHL skating around the Russians, keeping the puck off their sticks to maintain the lead.
This would then lead to a chance from Liam Foudy skating down the wing, sniping a bullet in the path of Isayev as he entered Team Russia’s zone. Foudy, off to a strong start, would continue to impress while on the same shift as he quickly found his way back to the blue line, pouncing on the puck for another open chance. The Canadians then lost possession, allowing Team Russia another fighting chance, however, Cedric Andree, looking good early on, would make the save and stop the puck in the crease.
With 5:47 now remaining, Team OHL would bring the fight out in strides as Tyler Tucker, at 5:46, would be whistled down and called for high sticking. This would send the 19-year-old defensemen off the ice for a four-minute penalty. As this gave Team Russia the advantage, both sides respectively would trade shots on one another, this being the case with the clock dying down as the game’s second frame would come to a close. This would see Team OHL still leading the Russians 3-0 after forty. The Canadians would exit up on shots, leading the Russians by nine, 26-17. As for the four-minute minor, Tyler Tucker would walk off the ice with 1:46 left to serve in the third.
With Tucker still off in the penalty box as the third period got underway, Team Russia, entering with renewed energy, would get whistled down just 27 seconds in. This followed by an early shot on Andree, but the puck going wide and missing the net. A Russia power play would be next to take effect, but killed off quickly, maintaining Team OHL’s 3-0 lead.
With both clubs going back and forth repeatedly, a stoppage of play would be called just three minutes later at 16:56. Moving along two minutes later following a chance on net taken from Zakhar Shablovskii, a scuffle would break out in the Russia zone as Team OHL would find the play to their liking. With that being said, the visiting Russians would continue to trail as the puck would beat Isayev between the pipes, however, called for review a moment later. That would find a tip in from London Knights right-winger Philip Tomasino with the puck bouncing off of his skate on a kicking motion, forcing the replay with 14:58 remaining. After video review, the call was reversed, keeping Team OHL up on Russia 3-0.
That wouldn’t stop Tomasino, all but done as the play then resumed as he rushed up the the middle, entering Team Russia’s zone, though he’d get bodied out before taking a shot. A stoppage would then be called with 11:53 left to play in the third. As Russia became more physical, this being both defensively and offensively, it would be Vasily Podkolzin with a point blank shot, but unable to beat Andree, causing another stop in play. With 9:36 remaining, the opposition would step up their game as Vasily Podkolzin, leading the charge for Russia, would find another good chance on the rush. However, approaching Andree in the crease once again, the Ottawa backstop would reach out and high to cut down the puck before making the save.
Andree would then send the puck back into the possession of Team OHL with Connor McMichael standing tall across the ice while seeking to further boost his team’s 3-0 lead. With the puck coming down the boards on the right-hand side of Team Russia’s net, the Canadian centreman would find that opportunity, but unable to poke it by Daniil Isayev.
While it looked like they were being outplayed, Team OHL would begin to look sloppy as they would suffer a hit along the boards, this occurrence taking place with 7:08 remaining. That would force the puck out of their hands and onto the sticks of the opposing Russians who would quickly convert on the play and up towards Andree and Team OHL’s zone. At this point, Ivan Morozov would lay a hit to the boards on Cam Hillis, his doing appearing to have been done cleanly, though this would leave Dale Hunter seeking the call.
With the game left at five-on-five, the battle would intensify in the final minutes as Cedric Andree, with 6:43 left, would make a beautiful save to keep the shutout intact. Just under a minute later, a string of chances from Russia would entail, this keeping Andree working hard between the pipes as he’d make another strong save and stop the puck at the 5:54 mark. Fast forward to 4:18 after the puck was dropped in Team OHL’s zone, Connor McMichael, with another open chance, would miss a backhanded attempt near the net. After coming short of his team’s fourth goal, the game would come to a halt with 3:23 left on the clock.
With Team OHL leading by three in an attempt to finish off the Russians in style, Akil Thomas would net the insurance goal, reaffirming his club on a turnover to the slot. With an assist on the play from Damien Giroux, this would give Team OHL a 4-0 lead with 3:10 left remaining. This would find the face-off being drawn from the centre ice dot before Cole Perfetti jumped on his guns with a shot of his own blasted out from the blue line. However, the puck would bounce off of a Russian player and trickle back into play before being converted. With a rush up the ice towards Andree, this would lead to a whistle with just 2:18 left.
Now with just under two to play, McMichael, hungry to add a goal to the boxscore, would try again, but missing the net, going wide of Isayev with 1:33 left. The puck would go around the boards and into the hands of Tyler Tucker. Upon retrieval, Tucker, 19-years-old, would take a shot at the net from the boards, but unfortunately for Team OHL, it would fly right into the glove of the Russian goaltender. With the momentum still flying high as the game’s final minute took place in Kitchener, Akil Thomas would take a shot on Isayev, but unable to get through with the save, stopping play.
This would then force a face-off taking place in the Russian zone with the puck quickly converted on one last roundabout, getting Team Russia on the scoreboard and late. The goal from Vladislav Mikhailov would be scored with 42.6 seconds left, this breaking the shutout with a nice passing play and a one-timer finish to bring his team within three. Assists on the play would be handed to Ilya Kruglov and Daniil Pylenkov. After a short bout of energy to follow this, the play would be whistled down for one final push with just 11.5 on the clock. That would commence the last face-off from the right side dot in Team OHL’s zone as the Canadians managed to keep the puck off the Russian’s sticks as the shot clock dialled down. This would then lead to the siren as Dale Hunter’s squad would lock down victory, opening leg two of the series on a positive note with a 4-1 win on Thursday night at The Aud.
It happened before 7,300, a sold out crowd for a Thursday night showcase, one that would see Quinton Byfield record two assists while Jamie Drysdale notched one of his own. For his helpers en route to the victory, Quinton Byfield was named player of the game, meanwhile, Vasily Podkolzin received the honour on the other end for Team Russia. Team OHL would exit leading in shots by a margin of seven, 34-27. It would also hand Canada an advantage, leading Russia in points for the series, 5-4.
After the game, Byfield met with the local media to discuss his performance where he said when asked if his goal was to show that he can play at an equal level as the 19-year-old’s on Russia, “Yeah, definitely. I tried battling down low in the corners, showing my strength, putting my stamp on the game. I’m just trying to show a lot of you that I can play with the older guys and that I’m ready for the next step.”
Quinton Byfield was also asked to discuss the overall experience and his contribution to the effort. With that in mind, when speaking about the roster made up of league all stars, he said, “There was a lot of skill out there and we found chemistry early on in the game and it just clicked for us throughout the whole game. Additionally, when discussing the game plan which saw the Newmarket native shifted over to the wing, Byfield said of the change made by Dale Hunter, “Yeah, no, it was a cool experience, I haven’t played the wing in a couple years. Not until, from my minor hockey days, but it’s always good to try new positions and get a new feel for everything.”
The Puck Authority also caught up with Jamie Drysdale, Erie Otters defensemen, and when asked how it felt to get something done with an assist added early on in the win, he said, “Yeah, I think it was a pretty good night for us, good first game. There were things we did really well, at the same time, there’s always things you can work on, so I think for myself as well as the team, we got better, we’ve got better to give, but I think it was a good first game.”
Drysdale, a top NHL prospect who is eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, was also asked about the Canadian support that showed up in masses on Thursday night in Kitchener and when speaking about what that meant to not only himself, but the team in general, he said, “Yeah, typically when I’m in this building, it’s mainly boos, but to have this crowd, this loud crowd on our side was huge, I think the energy was there, everything was there for us to build momentum, so it was an awesome night.”
Lastly, The Puck Authority spoke with Cole Perfetti of the Saginaw Spirit who said when asked how it felt to get something done with a goal in the win on Thursday night over Russia, “Yeah, it was good, it was nice making an impact on the game. I thought they played pretty strong and you know, to get on the scoreboard and throw one in there, it was nice to play in front this crowd and be able to do that.”
The Puck Authority also spoke with Dale Hunter, Team OHL head coach, following his team’s 4-1 win and when asked about the adjustment of centreman such as Quinton Byfield being moved to the wing, he said, “Well, you know, you’ve seen I moved the centreman around a bit to try centre and wing just so you know, maybe, you know, I need you on the wing, you know, so you’re able to play wing or your able to play centre, so if you’re versatile, it’s a bonus.”
When asked about the performance of Ryan Merkley on Thursday night, Hunter said in a short and sweet statement, “He played well. Merkley played really well, you know, he moved the puck and made some good passes. He played his game and you know, I thought the D played very solid, all the D played solid.”
Hunter was also asked about being an opposing young goaltender facing Connor McMichael and when speaking about the London Knights centreman and the abilities that he brings to the table, the longtime OHL executive said, “Yeah, he’s got a deceptive shot and he can, it comes off his stick different and that’s how he gets his goals all the time.”
To hear the four interviews in full, the audio from Thursday night’s media availability at The Aud can be found using the links attached below: