Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Newspaper Clipping - from the Prince George Citizen

This article was written by Ted Clarke and was originally published in the Prince George Citizen on April 21, 2011 ...

RJay Berra (24) and Justin Fillion (3) in Podolsk, Russia
It was a hockey game like no other for RJay Berra and Justin Fillion.

Canada versus Russia's under-20 team, with national bragging rights on the line.

It happened 11 time zones away Saturday night at the Region Centre Cup tournament in Podolsk, Russia, with 6,000 Russian fans creating a frenetic atmosphere the likes of which Berra and Fillion had never seen.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment," said Fillion. "Beating a Russian team like that in a sold-out barn is a thing that's only going to happen once, it's an experience I'll never forget and everybody else on that team won't forget it either.

"It gave us the confidence that we can play at that level and that we can go overseas and be successful at it."

Berra, a centre, and Fillion, a defenceman, both products of the Prince George minor hockey system, helped Canada to a 5-3 win. Canada built a 4-2 lead early in the second period and that spelled the end of the night for goalie Kirill Brashkin, who plays for the AK Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia's top professional league.

"To chase a goalie like that was pretty big for us," said Berra. "For the most part, that's the team they want at world juniors next year. I think we overachieved, playing against them.

"It was insane playing the Russians, the people were crazy. They chanted for Russia after every one of our goals. One of the fans jumped on to the ice and tried to fight one of our D-men, Jason Reardon. It was wild."

Team Canada, made up of players from the B.C. Hockey League -- went on to defeat the Slovakian national under-20 team 6-3 on Sunday to finish second in the three-team tournament. Canada's physical play was the difference-maker in their two victories.

"We played a hard style and definitely hit them more than they expected us to and came out with the result we were looking for," said Berra, who picked up two assists in the three games playing on a line with Mike Hammond and Bryce Gervais, both of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

Canada started the tournament with a 6-2 loss to the Russian Minor Hockey Red Stars, an under-22 national team.

"That under-22 team had a guy who played NHL exhibition games with the Penguins and quite a few pro guys who played in the KHL, so it was a good experience, really high-level hockey," Berra said.

Berra and Fillion played for the Prince George Spruce Kings until January, when Berra was traded to Grande Prairie and Fillion was moved to the Victoria Grizzlies. Both drew the attention of general manager Ron Patterson and coach Tim Kehler, who wanted them on the team.

"They picked guys for different roles and I think they did a really good job putting together the team," Berra said.

"To play for Canada, you can't even describe it when you have the flag hanging in your dressing room. The fans treat you like you're something special. You're part of the reputation of Canadian hockey players so everyone looks at you that way and it's definitely a special feeling."

The 12-day trip included stops in London and Moscow, where the Canadian players had time to do some sightseeing. Canada played an exhibition game against the Red Stars in Moscow and lost 9-2. While at Red Square, Team Canada was granted a rare invitation to visit the Kremlin, the home of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

"It was pretty surreal, something I'll never forget, to see a country like that, there is definitely a class system over there that's a lot different," said Berra. "There were some areas that were definitely struggling."

Added Fillion: "It's different, that's for sure. The rich are rich, and the poor are poor and there's a very small in-between. That was a huge eye-opener for all of us. We got treated like celebrities over there."

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