Sunday, September 9, 2007

Game 7: Canada-Russia Super Series

Friday night (and Saturday morning back east), Team Canada and Team Russia resumed the Super Series in Red Deer, Alberta. I was unable to watch the game live because I was virtually comatose from an early alarm clock and a long day of classes, but I did catch the game on TSN’s Broadband Network. So here’s my recap…

Before watching the game, I wondered whether fatigue would be an issue, and if Russia would completely roll over and die. I would say “no” to each of those questions. It was a hard-played, nasty game that resulted in a 4-4 tie.

Brent Sutter decided to allow Mason to play the first 30 minutes, and Bernier to play the second 30 minutes. Each goalie made spectacular saves, but they also each gave up a soft goal. Mason charged out of his net to challenge the Russian forward, but he miscalculated his speed and the Russian went around him and scored on the empty net to give Russia a 2-0 lead in the first period. Bernier, on the other hand, went down too early on a shot and Russia was able to score is fourth goal on the power play in the second period. These goals could have been prevented, but you still have to give credit to these guys for not mentally breaking down after letting in a softie.

At the beginning of the game, Canada was passing the puck too much and not shooting enough to take advantage of Russian goalie Zhelobnyuk’s shaky saves. Fortunately, they turned things around and held a 38-18 SOG advantage in the second half of the third period.

I don’t think that you can say enough about Gagner. He was a member of last year’s World Junior team, yet he didn’t have a single point in that tournament. Fast forward 7 months and he is the leading scorer of the Super Series. He scored his sixth goal of the Series in Game 7, and he also scored goals in the last 5 games. He will head to Yellowknife on Monday to join the Edmonton Oilers’ training camp, and he just may make that team this year. If he is sent back to London for another year, then he will certainly be a star in the upcoming World Juniors in the Czech Republic.

Sutter is another player that you can’t say enough good things about (and one that I keep writing about). In Game 7, this Red Deer Rebel had a spectacular shift on the PK in the second period that left his home crowd standing and cheering. This energy spread to his teammates and they put forth a number of great shifts where they created a lot of chances and put a lot of pressure on the Russians. Sutter also scored his second goal of the Series in Game 7, which gave Canada the lead for the first time in the game.

The Canadian defence has been largely solid for this Super Series, but they had a bad shift immediately after Sutter’s goal. Their absolute lack of effort allowed Russia to score the equalizer goal just 17 seconds after Canada took the lead.

From a physical point of view, this game was intense and nasty. The Russians came out swinging, and the Canadians matched their play. It was the most entertaining game to watch thus far, but at the same time I thought the officiating sucked. Yes, the Russian referees sucked. They called penalties on Canadians that should have not been called, they called penalties on the wrong players, and they didn’t call the Russians on a cross check to Legein and a high stick on Ellerby (and other infractions as well). Thankfully, they did give Kablukov a 2 and 10 for cross checking Pyett in the throat. I just thought that things got a little out of control at times because the Russian officials let it happen.

Canada did well in Game 7 when it came to offence and intensity, but they have to be more solid defensively and in goal because the Russians have proven that they can take advantage of a Canadian meltdown. Team Canada would have easily won the game 4-1 if the team had put forth an effort in the shift after Sutter's goal and if Bernier and Mason had not suffered from momentary brain cramps.

GM Place, home of the Canucks, will be loud on Sunday night for the 8th and final game of the Super Series. You can bet that the Russians will continue to play an intense game, as they don’t want to go home without a win. Canada must play their best game of the Series if they hope to remain unbeaten. They will have to maintain pressure in the offensive zone, and they must put forth an effort each and every shift. The team must not break down defensively, and the goaltenders must be sharp at all times. The people of Vancouver will be cheering for their Canadian boys, and the team should find their energy from the crowd if they find themselves fatigued.

My stars of the game:
* Brandon Sutter
** Sam Gagner
*** Kyle Turris

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