World U17 Hockey Challenge Day One Recap

Players taking the ice at Sunday's opening day of the World U17 Hockey Challenge

Players taking the ice at Sunday’s opening day of the World U17 Hockey Challenge

SARNIA, Ontario – The long anticipated World Under-20 Hockey Challenge got underway Sunday afternoon as all six participating countries were in action. With four games over two locations, Sarnia’s RBC Centre and Forest’s Shore’s Recreation Centre, fans of international hockey were exposed to some great opening day games.

Hockey Canada had two of its three teams, Canada White and Canada Black, taking the ice in Sarnia while the Canada Red squad was showcased in the evening Forest contest. It was a busy day of hockey with some all-world talent on display as day one concluded on the week-long tournament.
The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge acts as a platform for the world’s best 1998-born (or later) hockey players as they prepare for their own NHL Draft seasons starting in 2016. Over the years, the tournament has watched over 1300 NHLers skate in this international affair and is a prime opportunity for fans to catch the NHL’s future star talent before they hit the big market.

Sunday Game Recaps:

In a rather modest crowd turnout for the opening game at the RBC Centre, Canada White was pitted against feisty Finland Hours prior to puck drop, Canada White was hit hard with news that they’d be without Top defenseman and Sarnia Sting 1st overall selection Jakob Chychrun for the entirety of the tournament due to injury. With the Sarnia faithful losing one half of their two Sting representatives before the tournament started, it was surely disappointing for the fans but their own Jordan Kyrou showed very well.

“It’s extremely disappointing to not be able to participate this year,” said Chychrun. “Last year was an amazing experience in Cape Breton, and I was looking forward to representing Canada again in front of my home fans in Sarnia. Despite not being able to be on the ice, I’m excited to remain with the team and be a part of what should be a fantastic tournament.”

As Chychrun watched from the sidelines, his teammates were eager to get started and came out strong in the first period eventually opening the scoring midway through the first frame when BCHLer Tyson Jost walked off the half-boards and snapped home a shot on the powerplay (assist to Blainville-Boisbriand forward Alexander Katerinakis). Unfortunately, Finland capitalized off a broken play over a minute later as a bouncing puck deflected off Canadian forward Taylor Raddysh’s (Erie Otters) skate and into the goal to tie the game – goal was credited to Finland’s Otto Somppi. Samuel Harvey did a great job defending the Canadian crease to keep the score deadlocked at 1-1 but Canada struggled to muster up much offence as Finland showed impressive commitment to team defense and dominated possession.

In a short tournament where Canadian hockey players are required to come together from across the nation, developing chemistry takes time and it appeared to a factor in this contest. Finland would take the lead 7:52 minutes into the second period as Pete Niemi found the back of the net. With two more goals added in the frame from Finland’s Janne Kuokkanen and Otto Makinen, Canada entered the final period down three goals. Canada came out in the third period with much more jump but this time, goaltender Leevi Laakso decided to shine between the pipes turning away every shot thrown at him and 27 of Canada’s 28 shots in the game. Finland added to their lead with Eetu Tuulola chipping in a centering pass from underage forward Kristian Vesalainen to prop them up to an eventual 5-1 win over Canada White.

Between Finland’s dominant possession game, stingy defensive game and Canada White’s parade to the penalty box, the home squad couldn’t develop much momentum in their opening game.

Finland will take the ice against Russia in Monday’s afternoon game at the RBC (3 p.m. ET) while Canada White will look to get their first win when they get pitted against Canada Black in the evening game (7 p.m. ET)

Top Players:
Pete Niemi was named Finland’s Player of the Game after scoring the game-winning goal while Canada’s lone goal scorer, Tyson Jost, was deemed his team’s Player of the Game.

Jordan Kyrou (Canada White; Sarnia Sting, OHL) – Skilled and creative, Jordan Kyrou was among Canada White’s most dangerous forwards as he put his elite puck skills and ability to remain poised under pressure on display for Sarnia fans.

Tyson Jost (Canada White; Penticton, USHL) – With good skating skills and a confident offensive attack, BCHLer Tyson Jost was arguably Canada’s most effective forward as his fakes and one-on-one abilities created problems for the Finnish defense.

David Quenneville (Canada White; Medicine Hat, WHL) – Brother to two NHL drafted brothers and second cousin to Blackhawks’ benchboss Joel Quenneville, David Quenneville was a pleasant surprised. This undersized defenseman showed crafty playmaking skills, advanced vision and a real knack for quarterbacking the powerplay.

Travis Barron (Canada White; Ottawa 67’s, OHL) – Excelled in a defensive role and was a fixture on the many Canadian penalty kills but Travis Barrron also lifted the crowd out of their seats with some bone-crushing body checks.

Anthony Salinitri (Canada White; Soo Greyhounds, OHL) – Like Barron, Salinitri was a key member of the penalty kill and he was one of the few players who was able to gain the offensive zone and create some problems through his shear work ethic.

Leevi Laakso (Finland) – The 5-foot-10 goaltender certainly didn’t Canada many holes to shoot at as he flashed his quick reflexes and kicked out shots with ease.

Markus Niemelainen (Finland) – Arguably Finland’s best all-around defenseman, Niemelainen projects as a stud defender who does everything well. At 6-foot 4, the young Finn is above-average in almost every category showing great skating skills, smart decision making and a bomb of a point shot. His defensive commitments didn’t go unnoticed either.

Tarmo Reunanen (Finland) – Defenseman with slick lateral agility, quick hands and confident in possession, Reunanen shined on the PP as he operated as its quarterback. His ability to make opponents miss and open up time and space is a rare asset for a defenseman.

Janne Kuokkanen (Finland) – Quick skating winger gave Canada trouble as he really pushed the pace and attacked with great confidence. Deceptive puck skills and an ability to handle well at top speed was the direct result of his goal.

Otto Somppi (Finland) – While his credited goal in the first is nothing to write home about, Somppi displayed good foot speed, solid puck-handling abilities and was a fixture in the offensive zone all game.

Urho Vaakanainen (Finland) – The underaged defenseman has been touted one of the best Finnish defensive prospects and it’s easy to see why as he excelled in all three zones and owns the smarts, skating skills and confidence to create offensively.

The evening game at the RBC Centre involved Canada Black versus the quick Russians and it was one that did not disappoint. Despite the lopsided score, this contest was an exciting battle between the quick footed Russians and physical Canadians. In the end, Russia’s powerplay would turn out to be the difference as they scored on two of their three attempts.

The Russians scored five goals on 18 shots and proved to be a well-coached team, moving the puck up ice with ease. With an ability to run three equally impressive forward lines, Russia was in constant attack and made Canada work for their chances. Maxim Bain opened the scoring for Russia and Dmitri Sokolov would add a powerplay tally to take a 2-0 lead heading into the second period. It was Canada’s Zach Poirier (North Bay Battalion, OHL) who broke twine first for the home team as he finished off a nice passing play from Reagan O’Grady (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL) and Pascal Leberge (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL). Russia responded 59 seconds later and regained their two-goal lead on a nice effort from 6-foot-4 forward Nikita A. Popugayev. Despite a great pushback from Canada Black in the third period, where they dominated, Russia added goals from Dmitri Sokolov (his 2nd) and Mikhail Mesheryakov to defeat Canada Black 5-1.

Russia meets Finland next on Monday afternoon (2 p.m. ET) in a match-up of Day 1 Group A winners.
Canada Black faces off against Canada White in Monday’s evening game at the RBC Centre.

Top Players:
Tyler Benson (Canada Black; Vancouver Giants, WHL) – WHL Top pick was one of Canada’s best players Sunday afternoon as he was all around the puck. With great puck skills, a creative mind and a relentless work-ethic, Benson and his linemates (Sam Steel and Lucas Thierus) were always on the attack. Definitely a top prospect.

Sam Steel (Canada Black; Regina Pats, WHL) – Steel was very impressive Sunday as he activated the rush and pushed the pace of the game. His ability to attack at full speed is an elite quality and he doesn’t shy away from driving to the net.

Samuel Girard (Canada Black; Shawinigan, QMJHL) – Canada’s powerplay quarterback was an exciting defenseman to watch as he eluded checkers with great lateral mobility, creative fakes and thrilling spin-o-ramas.

Reagan O’Grady (Canada Black; Kingston Frontenacs, OHL) – Kingston’s top pick from last Spring’s draft, O’Grady was a pleasant player to watch as the young defender showed great poise under pressure and executed difficult veteran-like passes.

Kale Clague (Canada Black; Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL) – It’s not hard to see why Clague was named Captain of CAN Black as he emits an aura of calmness when he’s on the ice. An excellent mobile defenseman who always makes the smart play, there’s rarely trouble when this budding WHL star is on the ice.

Brandon Saigeon (Canada Black; Belleville Bulls, OHL) – The Bulls first round 2014 selection was very fun to watch as he flashed his advanced one-on-one skills and wasn’t afraid to attack the heart of the scoring area. I was very impressed with Saigeon’s physicality in this contest as it’s an element he hasn’t shown much of in the past.

Vladimir Sukhachyov (Russia) – The 5-foot-10 Russian netminder was the last point of defence for the visiting squad and Canada Black certainly couldn’t break him. Outstanding athleticism with an ability to stretch post-to-post for desperation saves, Sukhachyov was the team’s best player and was rightfully named Player of the Game.

Vitali Abramov (Russia) – Quick footed forward showed tremendous patience and playmaking ability. Each time he touched the ice, he seemed to be on the offensive attack and put the Canadian defense on their heels.

Nikita O. Popugayev (Russia) – The 5-foot-8 winger was one of Russia’s most creative forwards which included a nifty skate-deflection pass during the second period of play. He attacks with great confidence during one-on-one situations and despite being smaller, he’ll play in traffic.

Nikita A. Popugayev (Russia) – The 6-foot-4 Popugayev is one prospect to watch as he owns the NHL package. He’s extremely mobile for a 6-foot-4 teenager and his power game, puck-handling skills and touch around the net are all dangerous elements.

Mikhail Mesheryakov (Russia) – A tenacious forward with a real hunger for the puck, Mesheryakov has a natural ability to find the soft spots (or scoring areas) of the rink. He thinks the game well and gets himself open by using changes in direction and elusive cuts to find quality scoring chances.

Dmitri Sokolov (Russia) – Arguably Russia’s best forward was the stock Sokolov. He displayed elite level vision and passing ability finding teammates with no-look passes that landed right on the tape. His game always features a bruising physical element and quick shooting abilities.

Over at The Shores Recreation Centre in Forest, Ontario, the defending champs, Team USA, faced off against Sweden in the afternoon game while Canada Red took to the ice against Slovakia in the evening game. CKSN was not in attendance but the following is a quick synopsis of the events in Lambton Shores.

The Americans were led by Nick Pastujov’s goal and two helpers while Patrick Khodorenko added a powerplay goal and an assist of his own in USA’s 6-3 victory.
First period goals from Keeghan Howdeshell and Knights’ prospect Max Jones put USA out to a 2-0 lead after the opening frame.
Sweden answered with three straight goals from William Fallstrom, Marcus Davidsson and Oliver Olsson to put Tre Kroner up 3-2 midway through the second. Trent Frederic would tie the game nine seconds after the Olsson go-ahead goal and Patrick Khodorenko added the American’s only powerplay goal of the game (in five tries) to give USA a 4-3 lead heading into the final period.
Windsor Spitfires draftee Clayton Keller teamed up with Saginaw Spirit prospect Nick Pastujov to provide the Americans with a 5-3 advantage and then Pastujov would add a goal of his own in the final minute to seal the 6-3 victory for USA. Joseph Woll was credited with the win for the Americans stopping 21 of 24 shots.
The Americans will face the Slovakia Monday afternoon (3 p.m. ET) in Lambton Shores while Sweden will suit up against Canada Red in the 7 p.m. game.

Canada Red’s Dylan Wells was perfect on 14 Slovakian shots to earn the 6-0 win giving Canada its first win of the tournament, after Canada White and Black lost in their opening games.
Penticton (BCHL) defenseman Dante Fabbro struck first for Canada Red before the game was four minutes old on a powerplay goal. Just 17 seconds later, Windsor Spitfires rookie Logan Brown would extend the Canadian lead to 2-0 and Jake Kryski (Kamloops, WHL) and Thomas Gregoire (Sherbrooke, QMJHL) would pick up the assists. Another Windsor Spitfires player, Logan Stanley, scored Canada’s third goal of the game and Blainville-Boisbriand forward Miguel Picard added its fourth, all before the game was nine minutes in. After a scoreless second period, Drummondville forward Mathieu Sevigny broke the twine in the third and defenseman Logan Stanley added his second of the game in the third period to allow Canada to coast to a 6-0 victory.
Canada Red will look to remain perfect as they prepare to face off against Sweden (7 p.m. ET) while Slovakia will face a powerful USA team Tuesday afternoon (3 p.m. ET)

Be sure to follow Brendan Ross on Twitter @RossyYoungblood as he covers the #WU172014 tournament.

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