Thursday, April 28, 2011

Exciting Time In Hockey

The first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are in the books and eight teams now move on, one step closer to the holy grail of hockey. Just as exciting is the buzz around the start of the 2011 RBC Royal Bank Cup. This year in Camrose Alberta, the National Tournament to identify the Junior A Champion of Canada will feature five teams in a round robin format.

Starting in the West ... or actually the Pacific Region ... the Vernon Vipers have made the long journey back to the RBC Royal Bank Cup for an astounding third consecutive year and will be there as the two-time defending champions. The Vipers earned the right after going through the BCHL Playoffs and coming out League Champions and then taking seven games to dispatch their Alberta counterparts in the Doyle Cup Championship.

To make it all the way and win it just once is tough enough, but to make it there twice and win it in back to back seasons is the stuff legends are built on. To make it there three consecutive times is to flirt with the notion of a dynasty. Especially when you consider that the average duration of a Junior A player is two seasons with the same team. Between attrition, graduation and age restrictions, having a championship calibre team three years in a row is not something that just happens.

The Vernon Vipers started the season and even the playoffs as underdogs to make it to the end. Now they enter the RBC Royal Bank Cup as heavy favourites up against four strong teams from across the country. If it can be said that they quietly made it through the BCHL playoffs, their arrival to the RBC Royal Bank Cup has drawn lots of media attention and is making lots of noise across the country.

After receiving a first round bye in the BCHL Playoffs, the Vernon Vipers spotted both of their next two opponents early series leads before answering back and dispatching them in six games each. They did better than that in the League Finals, sweeping the hands-down best team in the BCHL and a top ranked team in Canada in four games.

The Vipers required all seven games in the Doyle Cup against the Spruce Grove Saints and had to win three of four games in unfamiliar surroundings in the Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove. The Spruce Grove Saints were ranked at the top of the list among Junior A teams in Canada and had only lost two games in regulation time at home all season. They had swept their first two post season opponents and in the league championship only lost one game.

The Doyle Cup games were low scoring and close with the Vernon Vipers outscoring the Saints 17-16 in those seven games. After the Vipers opened the series with a win, the Saints won the next two and brought the series home leading 2-1. The Vernon Vipers took back the lead going up 3-2 in the series but could not dispatch the Saints in game six. Game seven was a different story with the Vernon Vipers getting an early lead and never let go.

One of the teams that the Vernon Vipers will face is the host team; the Camrose Kodiaks were the only team to register a win against the Spruce Grove Saints during the AJHL post season. The Kodiaks have been to the RBC Royal Bank Cup five times before and have hoisted the National Junior A prize once winning it in 2001. Of their five trips to the RBC Royal Bank Cup they played in four championship games, the only time they missed out was in 2007 after losing to the Prince George Spruce Kings in an epic battle during the semi-finals.

This is the first time that Camrose has hosted the tournament and it will be the first time it has been held in Alberta since 2004 when the Grande Prairie Storm was the host team. Since 1990, six host teams have gone on to win it all and be crowned National Champions. The last to do it was the Weyburn Red Wings in 2005. The other five were the Halifax Oland Exports (2002), Fort McMurray Oil Barons (2000), Summerside Western Capitals (1997), Olds Grizzlys (1994) and the Vernon Lakers (1990).

The equivalent of the Doyle Cup, the Anavet Cup determines the winner to represent the West between the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The Portage Terriors come into the RBC Royal Bank Cup for their third time having seen both ends of the spectrum in their previous two visits. Representing the West in 1973, the Terriors came away National Champions from the Tournament held in Brandon and Winnipeg Manitoba. More recently, in 2005 in Weyburn Saskatchewan, the Terriors were the first team eliminated not making it out of the round-robin portion of the Tournament.

The Central Region representative has a longer post season road to travel that is capped off with a round robin tournament known as the Dudley Hewitt Cup. The Wellington Dukes dispatched the host team of that tournament to earn the right of representing the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) as well as the North Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) and the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL). This is the second time at the RBC Royal Bank Cup for the Dukes having finished 3rd in 2003 after losing the semi-final game to the eventual tournament winner the Humboldt Broncos.

Rounding out the five team field is a familiar name for those that remember the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup in Prince George. The Pembroke Lumber Kings will be making their six appearance this year, fourth as the East Region representative. Interesting enough the Lumber Kings once attended the Tournament as a representative of the Central Region in 1987 and one year later as the host team, finishing third both times. In 2007 they finished 4th while in 1977 and 1973 they came away with silver.

All teams have fought hard all year long to get here and this year the field looks extremely tight with all five times having a legitimate shot at hoisting the RBC Royal Bank Cup. Round robin play gets underway on Saturday April 30 with the defending champions taking on the host team - the Vernon Vipers and the Camrose Kodiaks get underway at 7pm Mountain Time (6pm Pacific Time). For complete schedule and additional information check out the RBC Royal Bank Cup page on the Hockey Canada website (click here).

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."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Silver Lining on Opportunity of a Lifetime

When they first accepted the invitation to be part of an all BCHL roster representing Team Canada in Russia they had no idea what the hockey would be like but they knew they couldn't pass up an opportunity of lifetime. To wear the iconic Canadian jersey and be able to travel overseas to play the game they love in a country they know very little about was nothing short of the realization of a hockey dream.

RJay Berra and Justin Fillion have played hockey for many years together growing up in Prince George. In 2008 they won a BC Hockey championship playing for the Cariboo Cougars Major Midget team and the following season they would both move up to play for the Prince George Spruce Kings playing three more years together on their hometown Junior A team.

In those three years the two remained close friends and shared seats on the bus traveling up and down the highways of BC. In those three years the two challenged each other to be better in their positional play on the ice and the improvements began mounting on the stats sheet. Before Christmas, of this past season, both players hit the century mark for points with Justin getting it done from the point a handful of games ahead of Berra.

At the trade deadline of January 10th, the two had to deal for the first time with the concept that they would be wearing a different jersey and playing for different teams many kilometers away from home. Justin Fillion was traded to the Victoria Grizzlies staying in the BCHL while RJay Berra found himself one time zone over playing for the Grande Prairie Storm.

The two handled the transition like professionals and never missed a beat in their point production making immediate contributions to their respective teams. For Justin, his 41 points in 44 points with the Spruce Kings was followed up with 15 more points in 18 games and 12 points in 12 playoff games with the Grizzlies.

RJay Berra left the BCHL as the leading goal scorer with 34 goals in 45 games and 55 points total with the Spruce Kings. In his very first game with the Grande Prairie Storm, which was played some 24 hours after being traded, Berra scored his first goal in the AJHL to tie the game and allow his new team to win in overtime. Berra would go on to finish with 16 points in 18 games and was a point a game guy in the playoffs as well.

The Spruce Kings desire to give both of these hard working players a chance to finish out their Junior ‘A’ careers with teams that had legitimate shots of going deep in the postseason never panned out. It can be said that both of their playoff lives were not what they were supposed to be, but this is where the hockey gods finally stepped in for the pair of twenty year old Prince George hockey products.

Just before the playoffs began in late February, Vladislav Tretiak had initiated talks with Hockey Canada and was looking for a team from Canada to play in a newly formed tournament in Russia. The tournament, and others like it, was a small part of the rebuilding of hockey in a country that will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and is looking to restore it's pride and dominance in the game.

For Russia it was essential to have representation from the country that is viewed as a perennial favourite and has developed a long standing level of respect around the world. To play a team from Canada would surely bring out the best of the best in the players and teams participating. With the prospect that the NHL would not be sending players to the next Winter Olympics, Russia's desire to become one of the best had to start with tournaments of this nature to identify players that could be playing on the world stage in less than three years.

The tournament would be the equivalent of one leg of the Summit Series that made a stop in Prince George; in fact one of the teams would consist of many of these same players we saw in November. The problem was that the CHL playoffs would be just getting through the heart of the second round and their simply wouldn't be enough players available on such short notice. Cue the premiere Junior A league in Canada.

The BCHL would be down to the final two teams leaving enough players that could easily suit up for Canada and play in that tournament. The process was started and Ron Paterson of the Surrey Eagles became the General Manager of the team putting together a roster of BCHL players, coaches and other staff members to travel to Europe and represent Canada in Russia.

Justin Fillion was the first of the PG pairing to be identified having played in the Coastal Conference for the tail end of the season. Patterson had seen firsthand what this defenceman was capable of doing on the blueline both defensively and offensively. RJay Berra almost slipped under the radar because of being traded to the AJHL. When it came time to look for players to fill roles on the team, Berra's name kept coming up. The call was made and Berra accepted.

RJay and Justin met the rest of Team Canada where they had a few practices before setting out on a journey that would take them halfway around the world. The journey included a lengthy layover in London, England allowing for some sightseeing that included Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and numerous other historic attractions.

It wasn't until they were in Russia that the realization of where they were started to set in. North American cell phones don't work in Russia, they were at the mercy of their supplied Russian interpreter, they were eleven hours off their normal time schedule and the food was something they hadn't experienced before. In all of this was something else - a level of respect and adoration from everyone that saw the Canadian flag and came to realize that these were Canadian hockey players.

Achieving the level of celebrity status wasn't something that this group of sixteen to twenty year old players had expected. Everywhere they went there were fans following them and some brought out their Hockey Canada gear to show off. Little kids couldn't get enough autographs and the interest shown to all the players was almost overwhelming with people trying to discover what part of Canada they were from.

Whether it was on their sightseeing trips or after ice times, there were always people there to shake hands, take photos and to talk to these Team Canada players. Of course the primary purpose of the trip was to play in a high calibre tournament featuring an All Star Team from the Minor Hockey League - a feeder league of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) - and two under twenty national teams from Russia and Slovakia.

Team Canada was provided with two ice times each day and an exhibition game against their first opponent in the Region Centre Cup Tournament - the MHL Red Stars. In that first game, Canada came out on the wrong side of a 9-2 score and was left wondering what they had gotten themselves in to. Their opponents, perhaps driven by their own national pride, were openly critical claiming they didn't know anything about this British Columbia junior league.

Taking everything in stride, Team Canada simply went back to the white board and looked at key areas that would improve their game against a much older and more experienced squad. The MHL Red Stars roster listed three players that already had their 22nd birthdays and seven 21 year olds with the rest being either 19 or 20 years old. In comparison the BCHL Team Canada roster only had two players that already had their 21st birthdays and also had two 16 year old players on it.

After a trip to Moscow and a couple of practices, it was time for the Tournament and three games that would each be worth three points in the IIHF round-robin format tournament. Team Canada and the MHL Red Stars would open the tournament and, as they had in the exhibition game, the Red Stars came out strong and opened up a 3-0 lead before the Canadians could respond.

Team Canada did respond and had the elite team on its heels to the point where Canada made it a one goal game and were only trailing 3-2 thirty-five minutes in to the contest. The experience of the Red Stars would take over and they went on to score three more unanswered goals. After the game the MHL Red Stars weren't nearly as critical of the Canadians claiming that they played like a true Canadian team and did not give up throughout the contest.

After the game, Team Canada watched their next two opponents battle it out in a close game that went to overtime tied 4-4 and eventually required a shoot-out to have the Russian U20 National Team defeat the Slovakian U20 National Team 5-4. The next day saw the MHL Red Stars hand Slovakia a devastating 12-1 loss and that was the first time that Team Canada started thinking that they could do something magical.

Team Canada played their second game in the feature time slot against the Russian National Team in front of 6,000 loud partisan fans that never stopped chanting and cheering for the duration of the game. Russia opened the scoring but a couple of quick goals put Canada in the lead. This was a position they hadn't been in before and it wasn't something they were prepared to give up easily.

When the second period started, Team Canada would get another quick goal to give themselves a 3-1 lead. A few minutes later Russia and Canada would trade goals leaving the visitors with a 4-2 advantage on the scoreboard. Before the midway mark of the period, Russia made it a one goal game and that is how the period would end. In the third period, Team Canada put a dagger through the heart of the bear with a fifth goal and then withstood a heavy attack that included four consecutive power plays for Russia.

After the game the realization of what they had done simply couldn't be contained and the same emotions and excitement came through in a unanimous feeling that they had just won a championship, that they had won gold. They had just defeated a team that had players with professional experience - a national team that had been to previous international tournaments and brought home gold medals.

The adrenaline rush of the win over Russia stayed with Team Canada well into their next game against the Slovakian U20 National Team. Before the end of the first period Canada had built up a 4-0 lead over their opponents. The teams would trade a pair of goals in the second period giving Canada a 6-2 lead. Slovakia would score the only goal of the third period, a shorthanded tally, but the damage had already been done and Canada posted the 6-3 victory to stake their claim to silver in the International Tournament.

Dressed in their Team Canada colours, the silver medalists watched the final game between the MHL Red Stars and the Russian National Team. The two skated in to the final minute tied 3-3. In the dying seconds of regulation time, Russia was assessed a penalty and the Red Stars capitalized scoring with 24 seconds remaining on the man advantage and then added an empty netter to make the final 5-3.

As they have done so often in their playing days with the Spruce Kings, RJay Berra and Justin Fillion figured on the scoresheet on some key goals finishing with a combined five assists. In Canada's 5-3 win over Russia, Berra's assist was on the game winning goal and Fillion's contribution was on the insurance marker in the third period.

Against Slovakia, Berra's assist came on the 3-0 goal forcing Slovakia to take their timeout. Fillion picked up two assists, one on Canada's first goal which was a point shot from the defenceman that was tipped in front and the other assist a mirror of the first on Canada's sixth goal.

The two regulation time wins gave Team Canada six points, three points back of the MHL Red Stars, four better than the Russian National Team and five more than the Slovakian National Team. Despite suffering that opening game loss to the MHL Red Stars, Team Canada still finished the tournament scoring more goals than they allowed.

After a full day off in Moscow to savour the victory and get in one last sightseeing opportunity, Team Canada's trip home began at 5:30am Tuesday morning in Moscow (6:30pm Monday Pacific Time) and will finally end when they touchdown in Vancouver around 6:30pm Tuesday evening. RJay Berra and Justin Fillion are not expected back in Prince George until later in the week and I for one look forward to the opportunity of sitting down with them and reliving the memories they have that will surely last them a lifetime.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Regional Centre Cup Tournament

Standings (Final)
MHL Red Star  
GP - Games Played GFA - Goals For Against
RW - Regulation Win RL - Regulation Loss
OW - Overtime Win OL - Overtime Loss
SW - Shootout Win SL - Shootout Loss

Team Canada Victorious

Team Canada goalie, Kahleed Devji celebrates
a 5-3 victory over the Solvakia National Team
In a game that ends up being decided in a ten minute span of the opening period, the boys from the BCHL come away with a 6-3 win over the Slovakia National Team. Jarryd Ten Vaanholt got things started for Team Canada at 13:26 of the first period. Bryce Gervais registered a hat trick including a pair in the first to go along with Austin Carroll's single to give Canada a 4-0 lead before the end of the opening period.

The only other goal scorer on the night was Nanaimo Clippers forward Brayden Jaw. Other players getting their names on the score sheet included Justin Fillion and David Killip with two assists each while Malcolm McKinney, RJay Berra, Mike Hammond, Jake Charles, Jason Reardon and Brett Knowles all picked up single points for their assists.

Heading into the game, the players were riding the high of having defeated the Russian National Team just the night before. That win was huge as many players relayed the same sentiments that it felt like winning a championship. Maybe it was partly the mystique of playing in a Canada versus Russia game and partly because this was essentially a team that had played in other International tournaments and has players with professional experience from the KHL.

The adrenaline rush from the win lasted through the night and well into the early game on the final day of the tournament. After building up the 4-0 lead in the first period, the boys seemed to settle down offensively but not physically. There were numerous penalties in the second period including a span of two minutes that saw nine minors handed out including a few coincidental ones.

The teams would trade a pair of goals each in the second period to give Canada 6-2 lead heading into the third period. A much quieter period saw only one goal scored - a shorthanded goal from Slovakia. It was too little too late and the rest of the game rolled on without any incident. At the time of this posting, Team Canada is watching the final game of the tournament that appears to be heading to overtime with the MHL Red Star and Russian National Team deadlocked in a 3-3 tie with only a few minutes to play.

click here for the whole text transcript of Team Canada's 6-3 win over the Slovakia National Team.

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.

Tournament Rosters (updated)

Team Canada
Name Date of Birth Ht Wt Club
Khaleed Devji 07.12.1992 180 70 Coquitlam Express
Kris Moore 03.04.1990 183 92 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Justin Fillion 23.04.1990 180 79 Victoria Grizzlies
Mitch Jones 12.12.1991 191 84 Surrey Eagles
Josh Manson 07.10.1991 191 92 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Troy Paterson 30.09.1992 175 79 Cowichan Valley Capitals
Brandon Pfeil 25.04.1992 188 84 Merritt Centennials
Jayson Reardon 24.06.1990 185 95 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
RJay Berra 26.07.1990 183 86 Prince George Spruce Kings
Austin Carroll 26.03.1994 193 93 Coquitlam Express
Jake Charles 10.12.1992 188 82 Coquitlam Express
Devin Gannon 31.10.1991 183 78 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Bryce Gervais 26.02.1992 175 67 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Mike Hammond 21.02.1990 178 77 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Brayden Jaw 24.04.1992 185 88 Nanaimo Clippers
David Killip 31.03.1991 178 74 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Brett Knowles 25.04.1991 180 80 Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Malcolm McKinney 27.09.1992 173 74 Coquitlam Express
Evan Richardson 30.05.1994 173 77 Victoria Grizzlies
Jarryd Ten Vaanholt 24.10.1991 185 88 Salmon Arm Silverbacks

Name Date of Birth Ht Wt Club
Dominik Riecicky 09.06.1992 185 85 Kosice
Juraj Simboch 30.01.1992 183 89 Nitra
Miroslav Habsuda 23.06.1992 179 75 Dukla
Miroslav Macejko 09.04.1992 181 86 Kosice
Lubor Pokovic 16.03.1992 188 85 Zvolen
Eduard Sedivy 04.01.1992 176 73 Senica
Michal Styk 17.01.1992 187 87 Banska Bystrica
Peter Travnicek 18.06.1992 176 84 Nitra
Peter Trska 01.06.1992 183 92 Slovan
Milos Bubela 25.08.1992 183 82 Dukla
Matus Chovan 14.02.1992 189 90 Kosice
Miroslav Habsuda 28.09.1992 178 80 Usti nad Labem
Igor Halas 23.06.1992 175 75 Kosice
Martin Jakubek 27.08.1992 177 82 Dukla
Boris Krempasky 28.10.1992 179 83 The entire list of Nova
Peter Lichanec 07.12.1992 178 82 Trnava
Radoslav Macik 03.04.1992 188 87 MHK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas
Tomas Matousek 15.06.1992 190 90 Banska Bystrica
Michal Murcek 29.01.1992 177 77 MHC Martin
Juraj Roznik 10.04.1992 187 85 Dukla
Dominik Simcak 05.05.1992 183 83 Kosice
Tomas Zigo 11.04.1992 186 82 Banska Bystrica

Russia National Team
Name Date of Birth Ht Wt Club
Kirill Brashkin 05.22.1992 176 87 AK Bars
Petr Eremin 07.14.1992 192 74 Mytischi
Sergei Kostenko 09.17.1992 181 85 Kuznetskie
Artur Amirov 04.03.1992 180 79 Loko (KHL)
Ivan Glazkov 02.13.1992 190 84 Sibirskie
Aleksandr Grebenyuk 03.26.1992 184 80 Amurskie
Artem Karavaev 02.28.1992 183 82 Sibirskie
Aleksandr Lopatyuk 09.05.1992 186 83 Krylya
Boris Novikov 03.26.1992 193 100 Zubry
Nikita Popov 07.11.1992 185 76 Almaz
Roman Tatalin 11.19.1992 182 79 Vityazi
Grigory Zheldakov 02.11.1992 185 89 Spartak (KHL)
Vitali Zotov 01.04.1992 187 80 Loko
Emil Galimov 05.09.1992 188 77 Reactor
Aleksandr Gogolev 05.18.1992 178 70 Spartak (KHL)
Pavel Kulikov 01.14.1992 184 84 Reactor
Oleg Lomako 12.24.1992 180 75 Ak Bars
Pavel Medvedev 01.08.1992 185 77 Spartak (KHL)
Vitaly Popov 07.08.1992 185 79 Severstal (KHL)
Kirill Rasskazov 05.03.1992 184 77 Omskie
Bulat Shavaleev 09.19.1992 180 86 AK Bars
Sergei Shumakov 09.04.1992 181 71 Belie
Pavel Snurnitsyn 01.10.1992 187 86 Loko
Aleksei Zaitsev 06.29.1992 179 73 Almaz
Ignat Zemchenko 02.24.1992 187 84 Severstal (KHL)
Dmitry Zharikov 03.20.1992 181 78 Vityazi
Semen Zherebtsov 11.23.1992 188 71 Omskie
Evgeny Zubkov 07.12.1992 174 67 Omskie

MHL "Red Star"
Name Date of Birth Ht Wt Club
Kristers Gudlevskis 31.07.1992 190 86 HK Riga
Roman Smiryagin 19.04.1990 174 85 Diamond
Nikolai Lukyanchikov 23.05.1989 182 94 Reactor
Konstantin Plaksin 15.10.1990 182 82 Polar bears
Nikita Manukhov 28.06.1989 175 75 Auto
Sergei Tereschenko 28.12.1991 187 91 SKA-1946
Dmitry Kostromitin 22.01.1990 191 94 Polar bears
Dmitri Zabolotnev 31.05.1989 179 80 MHK Spartacus
Georgy Berdyukov 19.09.1991 186 91 SKA-1946
Artem Maslov 12.07.1990 184 94 Soviet Wings Dm.
Nikita Pivtsakin 23.07.1991 179 80 Vanguard
Petr Khokhryakov 16.01.1990 183 76 Reactor
Igor Bortnikov 08.06.1989 182 81 Reactor
Evgeny Mons 23.03.1989 192 89 Diamond
Pavel Chernov 30.01.1989 179 84 Mytishchinskiy Atlanta
Anton Burdasov 09.05.1991 190 90 Polar bears
Maxim Trunev 07.09.1990 182 86 Diamond
Yaroslav Alshevsky 09.05.1991 181 69 Reactor
Nikita Tochitsky 17.08.1991 189 76 SKA-1946
Nikita Ivanov 31.03.1989 193 95 Soviet Wings Dm.
Albert Konozov 04.06.1991 182 96 SKA-1946
Nikita Feoktistov 23.06.1990 186 90 Ming Bison
Stanislav Alshevsky 09.05.1991 179 67 Reactor

Sweet Taste of Victory (updated)

BCHL Team Canada Captain, David Killip battles
in front of the net in the game Canada won 5-3
The boys from the BCHL, with the iconic Hockey Canada logo worn proudly on their chest, defeated the Russian National Team 5-3 at the Regional Centre Cup tournament in Podolsk, Russia. As I followed along with the text transcript of the game, it reads like it was an entertaining game with chances for both teams.

Ignat Zemchenko opened the scoring at 5:20 of the first period giving the Russians their only lead of the game. At 8:06 Devin Gannon tied the game with an even strength goal setup by Mitch Jones. Nineteen seconds later at 8:25 Mike Hammond scored on a pass from RJay Berra to give Canada the 2-1 lead.

With Canada enjoying their one goal lead the first powerplay of the game was awarded to the Russians when Jarryd Ten Vaanholt was put in the penalty box. Shortly after successfully killing off the man advantage, Jason Reardon was assessed a two minute minor giving the Russians their second powerplay.

Going off the text translation of the game, this powerplay provided the Russian National Team with plenty of opportunities to even the score but the penalty kill stopped them. Team Canada went to the dressing room leading 2-1 after the first period and came out early in the second period with pressure.

At 20:21 (or 21 seconds of the second period), Devin Gannon gave Team Canada a 3-1 lead. David Killip and Josh Manson were credited with assists on the goal that was described as being "bounced in" ... I'm thinking that would be tipped in. Two minutes later the Russian National Team started to rally led by a wrist shot from Aleksandr Gogolev at 23:30 that made the score 3-2.

Jarryd Ten Vaanholt restored Canada's two goal lead with an unassisted marker that chased the Russian starting goaltender Kirill Brashkin and brought in Sergei Kostenko, a member of the Russian World Junior team. Canada's 4-2 lead was short lived when Pavel Medvedev, a member of the KHL Spartak team, scored at 27:33 with an assist going to his Spartak team mate, Aleksandr Gogolev.

At 30:20, just past the mid-way mark of the game, Team Canada made their customary goaltender change bringing Kris Moore in to finish out the game. The second half of the period was a back and forth affair with no more goals being scored. As they did at the end of the first period, Canada went to the dressing room with a one goal lead.

The third period started with the home town fans loudly cheering on their team. The quote from the text transcript reads: Hey, hey we are stronger than Canada and need a goal!

On this night Canada proved to be stronger and at 45:47 they would make it a 5-3 game when Jarryd Ten Vaanholt scored his second of the game setup by Justin Fillion. From there the Russians tried to pour it on and were given four consecutive power plays including two in the final four minutes.

Mid-way through the third period there was excitement from a whole new level. During an on-ice skirmish a fan jumped onto the ice and then jumped Jason Reardon. The incident ended without anything serious and, by the sounds of it, the boys are still getting a chuckle out of the whole thing.

Team Canada withstood the pressure to register their first win in the four team round-robin tournament. Canada now has three points moving them out of the basement and ahead of Slovakia who lost earlier today 12-1. The Slovakian team is Canada's next and final opponent in a game that will be played at 1:00pm in Podolsk, Russia which is actually 2:00am Pacific Time.

After the game I was contacted by RJay Berra. The emotion of defeating this Russian National Team clearly evident in his text messages.

"It was unreal," said RJay Berra via a text message. "We chased a KHL goalie! We beat a World Junior team. And the Slovakian team is an under twenty team too."

Clearly the mood after the game is that Canada can finish this tournament with a 2-1 record. Team Canada has already played the MHL Red Star team twice, once in exhibition and in the opening game of the Regional Centre Cup Tournament. Canada lost both meetings but it appears that those games were a good learning tool and has helped improve the team overall.

The MHL Red Stars team defeated the Slovakia National Team 12-1 earlier today establishing early dominance and going on to score eleven unanswered goals. In the first day of the tournament, the Slovakian National Team and the Russian National Team required a shootout to determine a winner. Using those two scenarios has the Canadian team feeling pretty confident of their chances.

As promised ... click here for the whole text transcript of Team Canada's 5-3 win over the Russian National Team.

Game Snaps

Friday, April 15, 2011

Doyle Cup Primer

This was compiled and distributed by Brent Mutis, Communications Director with the BCHL.

It has been a while since we've had a game to talk about and for those of you dying to scratch that Junior A hockey itch, the puck drops for the Doyle Cup tonight at 7 pm from the Wesbild Centre in Vernon. If you can't be at the rink you can catch all of the action on the Doyle Cup Pay-Per-View feed ... CLICK HERE to sign up and prepare to enjoy the games in this inter-league cross-border provincial rivalry to crown the Pacific Region representative for the 2011 RBC Royal Bank Cup.

The 2011 edition of the Doyle Cup pits the same two opponents as last year against each other. Both the Vernon Vipers and Spruce Grove Saints rely on depth with no one player being the entire key to either team.

Spruce Grove Saints - Names to Know:

Felix-Antoine Poulin - Anytime a defenceman is the leading scorer on a team, you're sure to take note. That's the case with Poulin who came to the Saints after spending most of the season with the Drayton Valley Thunder. Poulin wound up with 27 goals and 34 assists this season from the back end and at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, has the size to take care of business in his own end.

Josh Koper - Like the Vipers, the Saints have one 30-goal scorer from the regular season and it's Koper who tallied exactly 30 goals to go with 27 assists. Koper is not big at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds but is a constant threat. He played parts of four seasons in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers and Edmonton Oil Kings.

Scott Allen - A four-year Saints vet, Allen has good size at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. He leads Spruce Grove in playoff goals with seven and is tied for first with 10 points. Allen is committed to attend the University of Alaska-Anchorage in the fall.

Vincenzo Marozzi - To say this netminder is accustomed to winning is an understatement. Over the past three regular seasons, the 6-foot, 175-pound Edmonton native has gone 83-9-10. That is not a misprint. Oh, and in the playoffs, he's 23-2, including a 12-1 mark this postseason. He currently sports a 1.46 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.

Nicholas Bourgeois - Bourgeois joined the Saints from the Olds Grizzlys midway through the season and totalled 19 goals and 26 assists on the campaign. He has three goals and three assists in the playoffs but merits mention as he's chalked up 56 penalty minutes in 13 games in the postseason, a number almost twice as high as Vernon's leader in the category Ryan Renz, who has 30.

Vernon Vipers - Names to Know:

Dylan Walchuk - The Vipers leading scorer in the regular season has carried the offence over into the playoffs too. His 10 playoff goals are twice the total of the next-highest goalscorers on the roster. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder scored four goals in the Vipers' series-clinching win over Salmon Arm in the Interior Conference finals.

Malcolm Lyles - A 20-year-old defenceman from Miami Gardens, Florida, Lyles played two seasons with the Boston College Eagles before joining the Vipers. Though not physically imposing at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Lyles strength on the puck and skating ability make him an efficient defender and constant threat to join the attack.

Michael Zalewski - The 1st Star of the Vipers' Game 4 win to sweep the Powell River Kings has three of his five playoff goals in the last four games. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is the current BCHL Player of the Week after he potted the overtime winner to put the Vipers into the Doyle Cup.

David Robinson - The homegrown captain of the Vipers is third on the team in playoff scoring and led the Snakes with 32 regular-season goals. Robinson spent a season-and-a-half with the WHL's Chilliwack Bruins before rejoining the Vipers midway through the 2009-10 season.

Ryan Renz - Listed recently by NHL Central Scouting as one of the top-10 Junior A prospects in Canada, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Renz leads the Vipers in playoff penalty minutes with 30 while chipping in three assists. The Vipers acquired Renz at the trade deadline and his size is a welcome addition to the Snakes blueline.

A big thanks to Brent Mutis of the BCHL for doing the research and compiling this list. Here's to an exciting Doyle Cup Championship between the BCHL Vernon Vipers and the AJHL Spruce Grove Saints. Remember, if you can't make it to the games, you can still watch all of the action with the Doyle Cup Pay-Per-View broadcasts ... register now.

Pre-Game Thoughts

This particular tournament was constructed from the ruble that was the collapse of the Russian hockey powerhouse as witnessed at the 2010 Winter Olympics. With the country hosting the next Winter Olympics, the entire hockey program was dismantled and is well on its way to being resurrected with the focus on youth and junior players. The Russian Select team is the equivalent of an All Star Team with players identified by the Russian Hockey Federation as being the future of hockey in the country.

The Russian Select team playing under the moniker of the MHL Red Stars boasts players with some serious International experience. Nikita Pivtsakin may be the most recognized name in the group having recently won gold at the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championships in Buffalo, New York. Georgy Berdyukov also won gold with Pivtsakin this past January and was in Trail for the 2007 World Junior A Challenge along with Dmitry Kostromitin. Nikita Ivanov has played in the 2007 U-18 World Championship and back to back World Juniors in 2008 and 2009 for Kazakhstan.

These Russian players are very aware that they have played in some prestigious tournaments while their Canadian counterparts are experiencing International play for the first time. In the Russian to English translation some of the quotes come out leaving the Canadian pride a little bruised. Evgeny Mons mockingly wanted to score a penalty shot with one hand was one description of a play late in the exhibition game played earlier in the week.

"I'm not even sweating," said Roman Smiryagin, the Red Stars goaltender after the exhibition game. "I was rarely bothered."

"I've never heard of such a league - BCHL," said defenseman Nikita Pivtsakin. "But Canadians are Canadians."

And Team Canada did play their brand of hockey as noted in one newspaper article following the exhibition game. From the first minutes of the game the Canadians made it clear that they had come to Moscow not only walk around the Kremlin, but to play and win. The article continues on to describe a Russian player being taken off the ice after a crushing hit.

"Do not even understand how it happened," said an utterly frustrated (injured player) Artem Maslov after the game.

In a pregame interview goaltender Roman Smiryagin informed the media that he would be the back up to Kristers Gudlevskis and that his team mate might be in for a tougher test than was the case in the exhibition game.

"The second match in a paired series of games is always harder than the first," said Smiryagin. "The teams have quite a different mood, rivals of each other have better knowledge, may choose different tactics for the match. So Kristersu today obviously will not be easy."

"Canadians have always played a classic exciting and aggressive game, they fight to the last," continued Smiryagin. "I don't think you should expect them to be something supernatural or fundamentally new - will be the same as the last match. But there will be a difference. A little more responsibility than in a friendly match. This is the tournament, we need to play more carefully and responsibly and win every match of the tournament (smiles)."

Prior to Friday's opening game I was also able to catch up with RJay Berra and get some of his thoughts.

"The Russians are good," Berra said via a text message. "We played their under 22 team with a few KHL guys and a guy that has played exhibition games in the show. It was a tough one for our first game."

"We open against the same team," continued Berra. "I think we will play better though after a few good practices and team outings around Moscow."

"It's fast," was the initial response I received after asking about the style of game being played by the Russian team. "Really skilled and lots of quick stick checks. They find lots of ways to strip you from the puck without using the body. The large ice is definitely their game and if they can make a fancy play they make it."

"Neutral zone containment, not giving them easy outs and containing their quick attack," was Berra's response to what adjustments Team Canada would have to make. "Little bit more power play and penalty kill work and just continuing to build team chemistry."

With that came the opening puck drop in the inaugural game of the "Cup of the Region Centre" International Tournament. Team Canada was able to keep the score close deep into the second period but came away with a 6-2 loss against the MHL Red Stars. CLICK HERE for a game summary from Eddie Gregory, media relations for the BCHL Team Canada, and the BCHL in Russia blog.

Team Canada will play next on Saturday April 16th at 6:30pm (7:30am Pacific Time) against the Russian National team. I am still working on finding the roster for this team as it has yet to appear on the tournament website. CLICK HERE for available rosters in the Tournament Rosters posting. Team Canada will wrap up their portion of round-robin play on Sunday afternoon against the Slovakia team at 1:00pm (2:00am PDT).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery - Winner

The Prince George Spruce Kings would like to congratulate Jennifer and Bruce MacKinnon of Prince George, British Columbia after becoming the grand prize winners in the 29th Annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery. On Thursday April 14, 2011, ticket number 1696 was drawn from a total of 8,370 tickets from the draw barrel in front of approximately fifty spectators.

Bruce and Jennifer MacKinnon are all smiles
inside their new home
The winners were notified over the phone, although it took more than one phone call to contact them.

"I was sleeping," said an ecstatic Jennifer MacKinnon. "The phone only rang three times; I looked at the clock wondering who was calling me at 10 after 8. When I looked at the phone I saw it was the Spruce Kings."

A few minutes later the call was placed to the MacKinnon household again and this time the connection was made with Spruce Kings Vice-President, Grant Zimmerman providing the good news.

"Oh you are kidding me!" said Jennifer with the shaky excitement in her voice clearly coming through over the phone. "Bruce, we won the house!"

"You buy tickets every year just hoping that maybe you'll get the phone call," said Bruce MacKinnon after the couple arrived at the house. "I'm so glad I moved to Prince George in 1994 and I’m so glad I've been buying tickets every year. Although we missed out last year because all the tickets were sold old; we had to make sure we had our ticket this year so we got it at the house early on."

The 29th Annual Show Home Lottery officially closes as the most successful Lottery ever for the team with 8,370 tickets purchased.

"This has been a great year," said Spruce Kings President, Darcy Buryn. "A lot of credit has to go to Jim Young and his crew, they did a great job. As a supplement to our other revenues, this (Lottery) allows (the Spruce Kings) to compete in the BCHL and for that we have to thank everyone that purchased a ticket and made this the most successful ever."

For a complete listing of winners, prizes and other details of the Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery please visit the Spruce Kings website or contact the Spruce Kings office 250.564.1747 during office hours.

Pre-Tournament Thoughts

Team Canada Captain, David Killip, goaltender Kris Moore and head coach Tim Kehler answered questions following the exhibition game with the MHL "Red Star" team and were also asked questions about the first days in the Russian capital. The following interviews have been posted in their entirety after being translated from the Russian website that they first appeared.

I have never interviewed Killip or Moore who play for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks but am pretty sure this isn't exactly how they would have answered the questions. This is more likely the result of an English to Russian translation at the time of the original interview and then the reverse translation for the purposes of reposting them here.

Team Canada Captain, David Killip
Maria Rogovskaya – What are your impressions of the "Red Star"?
David Killip – "Red Star" showed a very fast game of hockey. Frankly, we do not particularly know what to expect from this team. We have tried to realize their chances, but rival has surpassed us in almost all components of the game. Our guys are not accustomed to such. And the game system to them is completely different. There is no longer suitable developments that we use at home. This applies to both defense and defense. Here it is necessary to invent something new.

Maria Rogovskaya – Now you know what to expect from the "Red Star"?
David Killip – Yes, we have realized that this team assembled talented guys who know how good puck control. They feel each other on the ice, constantly on the move. And we do not keep up with them. For us it is a rewarding experience. And in the next game we'll look better.

Maria Rogovskaya – Do you know about the world champion among young people in the "Red Star"?
David Killip – We knew practically nothing about this team. This is further complicated our task. Now we know, for someone to follow in the next match.

Maria Rogovskaya – What is the "chemistry" of your team?
David Killip – We are a different club, but some guys have the experience of playing together. We represent Canada at the tournament, and it imposes an additional imprint on the result. As for the "chemistry", then every day it will get better and better.

Maria Rogovskaya – How do you like Russia and Moscow?
David Killip – Your country is different from Canada. But we are interested to come here and see how they live in Russia. Moscow is a stunning city. We visited the Kremlin, this is an incredible place. Not everyone has the opportunity to see it and we are happy that we got to.

Maria Rogovskaya – How do you sum up the game with Red Star?
Tim Kehler - We have received an introductory course on "what is Russian hockey." Our opponents played in the combination, fast hockey, constantly creating moments from our door and succeeded in the implementation.

Maria Rogovskaya – How long have you gathered in this lineup?
Tim Kehler - This game was the first for us in this format. Prior to that, we trained for four days at a base in Novogorsk.

Kris Moore holds the puck out as a Russian
player slides in to the net
Kris Moore – It was a very fast game, the Russians always in motion; in addition they are pretty big guys. But this was to be expected whenever Russian and Canadians meet, they always play great. Today, we are convinced of this.

Maria Rogovskaya – It appears you have not yet had time to adapt to the big ice?
Kris Moore – We really had to get used to the big box. Although I had little experience of performing at such ice. My first experience on ice of this size was a child. It seems that it is much larger than ours (laughs).

Maria Rogovskaya – And you where to try more ice?
Kris Moore – A couple of years ago I participated in a tournament in Switzerland, where for the first time and played on the big ice.

Maria Rogovskaya – What is the complexity for a goalkeeper?
Kris Moore – Russian guys intelligently controlled the puck, using the whole width of the ice and also did it all at high speed. I sometimes do not keep up with their movements. And they are great passers.

Maria Rogovskaya – Did you know that as part of your opponent played two of the world champion among young people?
Kris Moore – In "Red Star"? Have not heard about it. But this is contrary great that we were playing against opponents of such a high level. It was hard.

Maria Rogovskaya – As you are the arena in which you played today?
Kris Moore – I liked it. It is very different from the Canadian arena, the stands are located some distance from the ice. But I like it here.

Maria Rogovskaya – And the impression that Russia had already up?
Kris Moore – Excellent! Here, of course, everything else, but we were well received, we were warmly relate.

Maria Rogovskaya – How do you sights of Moscow?
Kris Moore – For us, already had a city tour. And in the Kremlin in general are all very beautiful. We were approached by people, all very friendly and we really appreciate it. We had to form Team Canada. Many people are interested in who we are and where. Hockey fans are everywhere! We really enjoyed in Moscow. We would like to visit sometime.

The references to the "World Champion among young people" is most likely for Nikita Pivtsakin, Dmitry Kostromitin, Georgy Berdyukov and Nikita Ivanov who have played against Canada in other International tournaments. Pivtsakin may be the most recognized name in the group having played in the 2008 World U-17 Hockey Challenge in London Ontario, the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship and back-to-back World Junior Tournaments in 2010 and 2011 winning Gold in Buffalo this past January. Kostromitin played at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge in Trail, he also played in the IIHF World U18 Championship in 2008 and in the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatchewan. Berdyukov also played at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge in Trail and was a member of the gold medalist at the 2011 World Juniors in Buffalo. Ivanov has an impressive International resume having played in the 2007 U-18 World Championship and back to back World Juniors in 2008 and 2009 for Kazakhstan. Available team rosters on the Tournament Rosters posting.

Tournament Origins

I thought I better clarify and make sure everybody understands I am not in Russia with Team Canada. I have received texts and emails thanking me for providing information and thought it prudent of me to let you know that I am very much on Canadian soil. I am maintaining limited contact with a couple of players and sifting through some Russian websites that I have found for information.

Both of those methods are proving to be a bit difficult as the players are having difficulties finding and maintaining suitable internet connections. As for the Russian websites, well let's just say I barely have a handle on the English language and have to rely on translation devices.

In my research I have come across some interesting interviews, articles and blogs from the likes of Vladislav Tretiak. Translating the context of these web pages from their inherent Russian to English leaves some sentences incoherent and less than complete. However most of it can be followed and contains tidbits of valuable information that shed light on the origins of this particular tournament.

The beginnings of this International Tournament, that BCHL players were invited to attend as members of Team Canada, can be traced back to a few days in February 2010 and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In men's hockey to say that the Russian team failed to live up to expectations is an understatement. The disappointing results led mass resignations of Russian Olympic officials.

With Russia hosting the next Winter Olympics in 2014, the entire Olympic program was deconstructed and is being built up under the watchful eye of some key personnel. Within a month Vladislav Tretiak was put in charge of resurrecting the hockey program and he continues to be the face and the voice of hockey in Russia today.

Russian Hockey Legend, Vladislav Tretiak
Tretiak's vision was to bring back the fans and the young players by involving them directly and seeking input and opinions from them. Tretiak spoke directly to parents and pointed out the successes Russia has seen in recent years and encouraged youth to bring back that passion and pride for the game. He identified the need for more youth tournaments and private funding through sponsorships.

"We need to create the largest possible number of tournaments for all ages in all regions of Russia," said Vladislav Tretiak in his blog dated March 23, 2010. "It is necessary to revive the system of children and youth competitions in all villages, towns and cities to determine the best. However, this can not be done without state support through the Ministry of Sports. In addition, one of the ways to solve the funding problems I see is to attract investors from private individuals and companies on a statutory basis with the provision of tax incentives."

One year later and true to his word, there are more tournaments being held on Russian soil including the International Tournament that the boys from the BCHL representing Canada are attending. In a letter of welcoming, the Russian Hockey Federation identified Canada as one of the strong hockey countries that he wanted to participate. The newly created tournament is called the "Cup of the Region Centre" and it is seen as the first of many to come.

"After lengthy negotiations with the Canadian national hockey federation, Team Canada has arrived in Russian made up of players of the junior league," reads the translated press release from the Russian Hockey Federation. "Negotiations are underway with the heads of European national federations and perhaps next season (this tournament) will involve teams from the Scandinavian countries."

"All of these competitions, tournaments and events held in our country are focused on one big goal - a home Olympics, which in 2014 will be held in Sochi," writes Vladislav Tretiak. "We need to show that hockey is indeed our game!"

Despite the overwhelming desire to reassert themselves as a dominant hockey country, they have shown their Canadian visitors a high level of respect. When Team Canada first arrived they stayed at the Russian Olympic Hockey Village. They are being looked after with travel arrangements, food and housing. The boys have also been on a couple of sightseeing expeditions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Russia Experience - Five Years Later

With RJay Berra and Justin Fillion in Russia for their experience of a lifetime, I was immediately reminded of another Spruce Kings alumni that was given the same opportunity back in 2006. Following his impressive rookie season in the BCHL with the Prince George Spruce Kings a then seventeen year old Jeremy Roberts was extended an invitation to play for Team Canada in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Jeremy Roberts - 2006 Team Canada
I recently caught up with Jeremy from his home in Calgary and had an opportunity to relive some of those memories of playing in Russia.

"There was lots of excitement," recalled Jeremy Roberts. "The fans just wanted to come out and see Canada play, but we were a young team and didn't do that well."

In 2006 Team Canada was made up of 22 players from across the country, Jeremy was one of only three that came from the BCHL. The team had five 17 year olds, ten 18 year olds and seven older players. There was a total of eight teams split in two pools with most teams icing full rosters of 19 and 20 year old players.

"Some teams had players that were over the age of 20," said Roberts. "We were playing against teams with lots of experience and talent. We played one of our games against the Saint Petersburg professional team."

This didn't deter from the overall experience and Jeremy admitted that it was more of a personal measuring stick.

"I was able to realize how the game changes with maturity," admitted Roberts. "They played a much different style of hockey and the older players were just so calm. I think they were toying with us at times. They used the ice well, all of the players were placed in a way that kept their options open and their passing was always on."

"I was able to see how much I had to improve my game," continued Roberts. "How I had to not get too caught up in the play and stay calm. I think the experience helped my game and I realized how much better I had to get."

A lot of the memories that Jeremy brought back home with him were about the experience away from the rink. Like the current Team Canada players, Jeremy went on sight seeing tours and was left with lasting memories about the museums, cathedrals and something that is a little harder to describe.

"There was a different culture," explains Roberts. "You could see areas where the city looked rundown and showed what they had been through. During World War II, it was the site of the (Siege of Leningrad) and suffered much destruction."

"You can see the city's pride in its history," continues Roberts. "There are military museums and cathedrals. They take great care of the cathedrals and guards keep visitors away from protected areas in the cathedrals."

Jeremy Roberts played two seasons with the Prince George Spruce Kings and was a member of the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup team that won silver. In the off season, Roberts was traded to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons as the completion of the future considerations that had brought Tyler Helfrich to the Spruce Kings for the National Championship.

In his four season Junior A career, Jeremy finished with 137 points (53G, 84A) in 193 games, 56 points (22G, 34A) in 95 games with the Spruce Kings. After taking a year off, Jeremy has just finished his rookie season in the CCAA League playing for the Mount Royal University in Calgary where he helped the Cougars to the ACAC League Championship.

"I had a good year," says Roberts and his point a game average supports that claim. "I took a year off and have to thank Jean Laforest (Cougars Head Coach) for letting me get back in the game. This was the first winning season I have ever played in. We almost did it in Prince George, coming close but this is the first time for me."

"I also want to thank (the Prince George Spruce Kings) and the BCHL," continued Roberts. "I got the chance to play overseas and that had a huge impact on how I play hockey."

*NOTE* The Mount Royal Cougars have a total of four Spruce Kings Alumni on their Championship team: Jeremy Roberts, Vinny Muchalla, Brenden Turnbull and Grant Toulmin.

Post Game Thoughts from the Hosts

Team Canada's Austin Carroll (15) is stopped in front of
the net while his line mate Malcolm McKinney looks for
a follow up chance against the Russian Red Star team.
Earlier today (yesterday in Russia), Team Canada suffered an exhibition game loss but also gained the respect of their first opponent in the International Tournament. The Unified MHL Team posted a 9-2 victory after building up a 4-0 lead before Canada could respond in the second period. The one thing that stood out was Canada's hunger, fight and unwillingness to concede the loss.

"I've never played with the Canadians. I really liked it, (they are a) good attacking team and they always impose the fight," said Albert Konozov in a post game interview. "It is known that Canadians have always played to the end and they fought (to the end) tonight."

Konozov is a forward on the Unified MHL team also being referred to as the Russia Red Stars. Playing with the SKA St. Petersburg youth team in the MHL, the twenty year old forward finished the 2010-11 season with 55 points (27G, 28A) and 66 PIMs. In his post game interview he went on to say that he expects to see an improved Canadian team for their first game of the International Tournament.

Team Canada and the Unified MHL Team will open the Tournament at 3:00pm (4:00am PDT) on Friday April 15th. Team Canada's second game will be the feature game on Saturday April 16th with a 6:30pm (7:30am) scheduled start time against the Russian National Team. Canada will then finish their round-robin schedule with a game against Team Slovakia at 1:00pm (2:00am) Sunday April 17th.

Exhibition Game Loss

Team Canada played a tune up game this morning at 7:30 PDT (6:30pm in Moscow) against the team they will meet first in the Tournament that starts on Friday. The game started out well enough for the visitors as they were able to withstand some early chances by the Russian Red Stars. Nikita Pivtsakin of the Unified MHL Team opened the scoring at 10:11 but that would be it for the first period.

"In the first minute of the second period fans of the Russian team had reason to be nervous," was the quote from the game summary. "The Canadians are getting several dangerous (scoring) chances on Roman Smiryagin (the starting Red Stars goaltender)."

At 3:37 of the second period there was a dangerous hit on a Canadian player that led to a scrum and offsetting minors for the two teams and a ten minute misconduct to Brett Knowles. Evan Richardson took a two minute minor at 4:49 and; although Team Canada was able to kill off the power play, the Red Stars made it a 2-0 game with a goal at 6:50.

The Russian squad increased their lead to 4-0 with a power play goal and an even strength marker four minutes apart. David Killip put Canada on the scoreboard eleven seconds later after being setup by Austin Carroll. From the ensuing faceoff there were coincidental minors handed out leaving the teams to play four-on-four. The Red Stars capitalized to restore their four goal lead and would add another goal before the end of the second to take a 6-1 lead to the dressing room.

Team Canada was unable to score on an early third period power play and instead found themselves down 7-1 with an even strength goal scored at 4:04. At 5:32 Malcom McKinney scored Canada's second goal of the game unassisted. Both teams would get one more power play chance each but neither scored on the man advantage. The Russians scored two more times before the end of the game to post the 9-2 victory.

The two teams will meet again on Friday afternoon at 3:00pm, 4:00am in BC, in the first game of the IIHF Round Robin Tournament. The late game has the Russian National Team playing the team from Slovakia. On Saturday Team Canada will play the Russian National Team at 6:30pm (7:30am PDT) before wrapping up their portion of the tournament as the home team against the Slovakians at 1:00pm (2:00am PDT) on Sunday.

Prior to the game RJay Berra and Justin Fillion got to meet Evengi Nabokov

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Schedule of Games

After long last I have been able to find the schedule of games with dates, times and teams for the International Tournament "Cup of Regional Center" in Podolsk, Russia. The information is available only in Russian and my ability to translate seamlessly is anything but seamless.

I believe the original name of the tournament was to be the 4 Nations Cup, but things did change with the tournament recently. Originally set to be a four country tournament in Tyumen, it had to be moved closer to Moscow and Podolsk was chosen in early April. Still a four team tournament, each team will play three games in an IIHF round robin format where games are worth three points. The team finishing with the most points will become the winner of the tournament; although I haven't been able to figure out a tie breaker just yet.

Canada's first opponent will be the Unified MHL Team, or the equivalent of an All Star team from Russia's Minor Hockey League. The MHL is a major junior league that consists of 29 teams with players between the ages of 17 and 21. Some of these teams are subsidiaries or feeder teams for their respective Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) professional counterparts.

Photo courtesy MHL.KHL.RU
The Russian "Red Stars" and Team Canada are scheduled to play an exhibition game on April 13th. On the weekend the Red Stars were in Poland were they split a pair of games winning 6-1 in the first game and dropping a 4-2 decision the next day. The exhibition game is at 6:30pm local time or 7:30am PDT and will be played in the Vityaz Ice Palace.

"Today's game was a very hard fight, sorry that I lost, but for us it would be a good lesson," said Kristers Gudlevskis, the goaltender and best player for the Unified MHL team in the 4-2 loss to Poland. "(It's) nice to get the best player award, but for me the most important is the victory of the team rather than personal reward. We have gained useful experience before an important game against Team Canada in Moscow."

The boys from the BCHL Team Canada squad will play Slovakia on the final day of the three day - three game round robin tournament. The Slovakian team has put out a 22 man roster comprised predominately of 1992 born players. In a tune-up game, the U18 team shutout the Slovensko U20 team 3-0.

Round-Robin Tournament Schedule

April 15, 2011
15:00 (4:00am PDT) Unified MHL Team - Canada
18:30 (7:30am PDT) Russia - Slovakia

April 16, 2011
15:00 (4:00am PDT) Slovakia - Unified MHL Team
18:30 (7:30am PDT) Russia - Canada

April 17, 2011
13:00 (2:00am PDT) Canada - Slovakia
16:00 (5:00am PDT) Russia - Unified MHL Team

A Visit to Red Square

Only a couple more days before the boys representing the BCHL on Team Canada play in their first game in the Podolsk International Tournament. Here in BC, we are still waiting to find out who the first opponent will be for Team Canada and at what time they will play that first game on April 15th. In Russia, the boys are practicing and watching the other teams practice.

Today they are also taking some time away from the rink to take in some of the culture with a sightseeing venture into Moscow. One stop for sure will be the Red Square. Made famous for its military parades, the Red Square is situated in the heart of Moscow with the Kremlim on one side and Lenin's tomb on the other. In a display of a more modern commercial Moscow, the country's largest department store flanks a third side of the Red Square.

The Kremlim itself is a world heritage site and Moscow's most famous historical and political landmark. It is a "complex of cathedrals, palaces and government offices" with several buildings open to the public including the Armoury. If the boys go to the Lenin Mausoleum they will have to be on their best behaviour as the old world decorum for visitors is strictly enforced. Inside the Mausoleum stands the wax likeness of Vladimir Lenin; although some believe that it is actually the embalmed body of the notorious 20th-century Russian leader.

There is a long list of other potential attractions that the boys could include on their sightseeing tour such as the Russian Hockey Hall of Fame, the Cosmonaut Space Museum and a long list of other museums, churches and cathedrals. I'm so happy that RJay Berra and Justin Fillion are getting this opportunity of a lifetime and that the organizers and chaperons are making sure that they experience the culture as well as the sport.

Back to the sport and the games at hand ... the players have been assigned their jerseys and roles on the team and will continue to practice for the first of their three games in Podolsk, Russia. RJay Berra will be wearing number 24 and Justin Fillion will be number 3. Thanks to Justin, I have been able to include a handful of pictures from the trip so far.