A very deep and successful Russian under-18 squad had their hands full with the pesky eastern Canadians, who fought tooth and nail to force overtime before dropping a 3-2 decision on a power-play goal by Vasily Ponomaryov. One has to be mindful of the tournament openers regardless of the matchup for a variety of reasons, mainly due to travel and a lack of chemistry or familiarity. While the Canadians from the east were thin on big names but strong in discipline and effort, the Russian iced a lineup with several players who should be considered first-round quality draft prospects. The match on paper looked like a David and Goliath scenario, but in the end, it was anything but. Both sides traded jabs throughout the contest, with Canada-East opening the scoring on a power-play goal by former Quebec Rempart Jérémy Laframboise, a 2000-born center who was one of their most consistent threats. Russia quickly answered to tie the score at 1 when Nikita Kuryanov snuck i9n a rebound off a shot from the top of the right circle from Dmitry Zugan. Muskegon Lumberjack Daniil Guschin then gave Russia a 2-1 lead with a breakaway goal, but Canada-East forced overtime late in the third thanks to a behind-the-net bank shot by 2021 draft prospect Dovar Tinling that snuck in. In the extra frame, the Canadians took a goalie interference penalty, and Ponomaryov ended the game with a wrister from just inside the blue line.
#WJAC: Canada-East hit iron in OT then took a GI penalty that proves costly. C Vasily Ponomaryov fires a bullet from 50 feet out to give Russia a 3-2 win over Canada-East in the tournament opener. Really fun game to watch and gave you a bit of everything. Canadians hung tough. pic.twitter.com/ojOWr7uyRl
#WJAC: C Jeremy Laframboise (2020/2000) has had multiple chances today and here he pots a PPG to give Canada-East a well-deserved 1-0 lead over Russia in the 2nd. Rights belong to the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, who he was with each of the last two seasons pic.twitter.com/92A3kxCvLz
Every time I watch this kid either in international games or with SKA-1946, he impresses, and I care less whether or not he puts up points. Rychkov plays an aggressive, in-your-face style and the puck always seems to follow him. He was listed a spare on the official lineup sheet, but he played on the top power-play unit and on Marat Khusnutdinov’s line once the game tightened up. Rychkov boasts a very hard slapper and he likes to shoot off the pass with regularity, but he’s also a strong possession forward who doesn’t rush his decisions and will peel back on a dime after entering the zone with speed. A strong skater with excellent balance and agility, Rychkov’s hustle on the forecheck led to several scoring chances.
Mukhamadullin is a big, rangy defender who oozes top-pairing potential. Not only for his size and booming shot, but also for his poise under pressure and a quick-strike mentality when opposing teams try to establish a dump-and-chase environment. Mukhamadullin is very crafty during retrievals, and his stretch-pass proclivity sprung Daniil Guschin for a pivotal tally. Although his home-run passes stretch out defenses, he also showed off his skating ability several times in using sharp cut backs and gear shifting to outpace quick forecheckers. He played a centralized role on the power play, and playmakers such as Marat Khusnutdinov and Vasily Ponomaryov always looked to set him up for one-timers. On the defensive side, Mukhamdullin is a physical crease clearer who uses his stick to send a message. He’s played against quicker, older teams in the past, so don’t bet on him being intimidated by the U.S. or Canada-West. If anything, they have to prepare for him.
#WJAC: C/W Nikita Kuryanov (2020/2002) sneaks in a rebound off a shot from C Dmitri Zugan (2021 Draft), with LHD Shakir Mukhamadullin picking up the secondary. Both goalies have been putting juicy rebounds near the goal mouth. Russia and CAN-East tied 1-1 in the 2nd. pic.twitter.com/jBhugcD2rH
A flashy playmaker and no-nonsense shooter who at this point appears to be Russia’s top defense prospect for the 2021 draft, Kirsanov has been a tournament mainstay with the 2002 year group for several years, to include the gold-medal run at the Ivan Hlinka last August. He’s very nimble and possesses a variety of fakes and dekes to get himself into shooting position, but its his play off the puck in the neutral zone that impressed in Saturday’s game against Canada-East. His step-ups were both timely and effective, and he was on the second units for the power play and penalty kill. He plays for a stacked SKA-1946 squad but is leaned on to play in key situations and already seems to have earned his coach’s trust.
C Cole O’Hara North York, OJHL | 5’11, 160 | 6/20/02 | NCAA: U.Mass-Amherst
One of the more notable players for Canada-East, O’Hara is puck wizard and playmaker on the smaller side who will get involved physically and finish his checks. He is very quick and agile who always seemed to be around the puck and used timely pivots or cut backs to sidestep or evade pressure. O’Hara is pretty light on his skates, but he’s pure offense and can catch a trailer or cutter in stride with frequency. The Russians did a good job of containing his speed and passing skills at even strength, but O’Hara was able to complete several plays thanks to his elusiveness and puck control.
U.S. 3, Canada-West 2
This anticipated heavyweight bout did not disappoint as the score remained close the entire match until the Americans scored in the third and held on for a 3-2 victory. They received two clutch goals from winger Sean Farrell — one to tie the score in the second and the other to give them the lead in the third. Goaltending was critical in this one as Canada-West’s Matt Davis and Team USA’s Logan Stein made multiple 10-bell saves, especially Davis during a third period that saw his mates get outshot 16-9 in the third period. Each squad countered in a back-and-forth affair for two periods, but the ice was tilted against Canada-West in the final frame.
#WJAC: Sean Farrell bangs home a PPG to give Team USA a 3-2 lead over Canada-West early in the 3rd period. For a smaller forward he always seems to be hanging around the front of the net. pic.twitter.com/NMzwI4Q9q2
RHD Michael Benning Sherwood Park, AJHL | 5’9, 177 | 1/5/02 | NCAA: Denver
Benning is one of the tournament’s bigger names, so you’ll be hearing a lot about him as it progresses. Committed to Denver like several others who competed last night, Benning is expected to be picked in one of the early rounds of this June’s draft. He showed flashes of his impressive puck skills and superior escapability, but the Americans kept him under wraps for most of the match. He quarterbacked the top power play unit but didn’t see much time on the penalty kill, and don’t expect to see much of a change when Canada-West plays a powerhouse like Russia. Benning’s finesse game and breakout abilities are at the forefront of his on-ice contributions, but he had difficulty in the 3rd period keeping lanes blocked or sealing off puck rushers while affording them too much room upon entry. One thing about his play off the puck that keeps standing out is his physical play along the boards. Although he isn’t a big hitter, Benning makes up for it by being a hard shover which seemed to catch several opposing forwards off guard.
#WJAC: Soft hands everywhere as @DU_Hockey recruits RHD Michael Benning and LW Carter Savoie get the puck in cleanly, then C Alex Young (@ColgateMIH) with some fancy moves to dish to Savoie for the slam dunk. Canada-West just added another to lead Team USA 2-1 in the 2nd pic.twitter.com/7nmQR5ThUW
LW Carter Savoie Sherwood Park, AJHL | 5’9, 192 | 1/23/02 | NCAA: Denver
Much like his Spruce Grove teammate Benning, Savoie is a central figure to Canada-West’s success. He was on the top line with center Massimo Rizzo, and the AJHL’s leading scorer was one of his team’s more dangerous forwards. he made subtle yet smart plays in all three zones, specifically when receiving passes under pressure. Savoie is a good skater, albeit a little hunched, but he’s able to accelerate past or around pressure and enter the opposing end with time and space. In one sequence in the first period, both he and Benning made smart decisions during a breakout on the power play that ultimately led to Savoie’s slam-dunk power-play goal at the side of the net. He nearly scored his second of the game in a similar fashion a few minutes later, but goalie Logan Stein made a miraculous paddle save stretching towards the long side. From that point forward, Savoie’s contributions were limited to some low-percentage attempts but also fine passes and decision making from the half wall on the power play.
C/W Kent Johnson Trail, BCHL | 6’1, 168 | 10/18/02 | NCAA: Michigan
A jersey-flapping forward with a tremendous amount if flair and pizzazz on or off the puck, Johnston showed why he should be considered a top-10 pick in the 2021 draft, albeit in spurts. He’s been crushing the BCHL in his draft-1 season, leading the circuit in scoring by a significant margin. Against the Americans on Saturday, Johnson shifted over to wing rather than play his natural center position, but it didn’t matter — he dominated the puck and showed incredible agility, balance, and edgework while controlling it cleanly in full flight. It only takes a few shifts to realize that Johnson certainly isn’t lacking in the confidence department, and it’s not common to see a forward of his size combine power and grace into his skating stride.
LHD Ben Meehan Cedar Rapids, USHL | 6’0, 178 | 4/20/01 | NCAA: U.Mass-Lowell
A physical two-way defender with a seemingly aggressive mindset in all three zones, Meehan is a 2001-born native Baystater committed to U.Mass-Lowell. He consistently stood out in the offensive zone, where he was activating like made to keep plays alive. Meehan spends a chunk of time near or below the circles, and he uses fluid backskating to retreat back to his point position. Most of his reads were smart and timely, but he also was willing to corral the puck and walk it away from pressure. Meehan used a variety of head bobs, shoulder fakes, and pivots to open up a lane, and he never once hesitated using his hard shot — wrister or slapper. He hits hard and keeps his gap tight, but he also battles hard in front of the net and isn’t caught chasing without making sure the slot is covered.
A slick playmaker with excellent speed and a high compete level, Brisson was one of the leading threats for the Americans in terms of getting the puck through center and entering the zone cleanly, and providing his linemates with chances to score. He opened the scoring early in the second period with a one-timer from the right circle and remained incredibly active for the rest of the contest. Every aspect of Brisson’s skating is on the plus side, specifically his quick first step and edges as he’s leaned on. He is a decisive and confident center who understands his role and displays advanced hockey sense. Brisson never once seemed deterred by traffic near the line, and on several occasions simply powered past defensemen who normally are quite good at breaking up entires up high.
A quick former NTDP’er who is carving out a nice reputation as a legitimate scoring threat, Farrell continues to prove that his gaudy USHL-leading point totals are no aberration. He scored a pair of clutch goals for the Americans; the first to erase a 2-1 deficit late in the second period; the second early in the third that gave the U.S. a lead it would not relinquish. Farrell is a smaller player who competes hard and is buzzing all over the ice. He has excellent vision and playmaking skills, but his lack of size does not prevent him from battling hard along the walls or fighting for low-slot positioning. Farrell’s chemistry with Sam Colangelo and Brendan Brisson certainly helped, but credit is due for the trio being able to dictate the tempo against a very good Canada-West squad.
Colangelo is one of several highly-rated draft prospects for Team USA, and some could argue that he may be the first U.S.-born winger taken in June. He displays an impressive blend of power, skill, and hockey sense, and his size does not hide his creativity and vision. Playing on an all-Chicago Steel line with center Brendan Brisson and left wing Sean Farrell, Colangelo was critical in setting up the game’s opening score by pouncing on a loose puck and threading the needle to Brisson for a one-timer.
#WJAC: Sweet look by power winger Sam Colangelo to find streaking LW Gunnarwolfe Fontaine but Matt Davis shuts the door. Both Colangelo and Fontaine are @GoNUmhockey recruits and teammates on the Chicago Steel. Davis, who played in last year’s WJAC, is committed to @DU_Hockeypic.twitter.com/KXPkE1Fw0P