Saturday, April 16, 2011

Canada Feeling Confident

Sitting in second place at the newly created International Tournament, Team Canada has a good chance of coming home with a medal. Four teams, including a semi-pro all star team as well as two under 19 national teams from Russia and Slovakia, are playing with an invited group of players from the British Columbia Hockey League.

The Regional Centre Cup Tournament in Podolsk, Russia is were Team Canada finds themselves eleven hours off their usual time dealing with a language barrier and playing against teams and players that have pro, semi-pro and international experience. Early on in the tournament Team Canada played an exhibition game and their first tournament game against the All Star team from the MHL, a feeder league for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), with players that were upwards of 22 years old.

After the games Canada was left looking for positives while their opponents openly shared their stories of slaying the great beast that is Canadian hockey with the media. Those first two games have since become learning tools for Team Canada as they showed a marked improvement against the best team in the tournament and were within a goal late in the second period.

Canada made adjustments to their game and were able to show their resilience and the heart of the Canadian player in their second game against the Russian National Team; but don't be fooled by the roster showing all players with a 1992 birth year. This under nineteen team boasts some elite players that have skated in International play and stood to receive medals afterwards. It also has more than a handful of players that have experience in the KHL.

Justin Fillion (3) in a puck pursuit against
a member of the Russian National Team
April 16, 2011 will be a date that may end up being permanently etched into the memories of this group of BCHL players and those few select fortunate enough to be along for the experience of a lifetime. On this particular day Team Canada played in the feature game of the day in front of 6,000 loud partisan fans.

Canada fell behind with the home team scoring first, but that would be the only time that Canada trailed as they scored twice in less than twenty seconds to take over a 2-1 lead. Early in the second period Canada would score again to make it a 3-1 game and then the two teams would trade goals before both goaltenders were changed up.

Through the rest of the game Canada was able to withstand the pressure of the home team, four consecutive power plays, a Russian fan that got on the ice and jumped Jason Reardon and of course the din of the loud crowd trying to cheer on their team. When the dust settled, Team Canada had a 5-3 victory to savour and fuel for their confidence heading into their final game of the tournament.

"The game was unreal," said Justin Fillion in a text message. "The fans were standing and chanting the whole game, it was intense!"

"I think the keys for our win was that we played the North American styled game," continues Fillion. "There was lots of hitting and we kept the pressure on them the whole time taking their time and space away."

"This is the most exciting game I've ever played in," adds Fillion. "It was the typical Canada-Russia game with so much intensity."

"This is the best moment of my life," agrees RJay Berra. "We just beat a gold medal team."

"It feels like we just won gold!" adds Justin Fillion.

But of course they didn't win gold, but if all goes well, Team Canada can come home with a silver medal. Currently sitting in second place with three points for their regulation time win over the Russians, Canada has a chance to add three more making it impossible for either of the other teams to catch them. Even an overtime or shootout win, that provides two points in the IIHF round-robin format, would give Team Canada that silver medal.

With the time change, Canada's final game against the Slovakian National Team is scheduled for 2:00am Pacific Time (1:00pm in Podolsk). I will endeavour to have results posted by the time most followers in the Pacific time zone get up to start their Sunday.

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