ALMATY, Kazakhstan (U SPORTS) – The Canadian men’s hockey team survived a scare on Saturday night before edging Latvia 5-2 in the quarter-final round of the 28th Winter Universiade tournament, a result which sets up a semifinal date with archrival Russia.
The much-anticipated contest between Canada (4-0) and reigning Universiade champion Russia (4-0) is set for Tuesday at 4 p.m. local (5 a.m. EST), live on the web at www.livefisu.tv/.
It will mark the fourth straight semifinal involving the two countries at the biennial tournament. The Russians prevailed in 2015 (3-2 in a shootout) and 2011 (4-2), while the Canucks won 4-2 in 2013 in Trentino, Italy, en route to their fourth FISU title. The long-time foes had also met in the 2007 and 2009 finals, with Canada winning the former and Russia taking the latter.
Michael McNamee, a Carleton University forward from Perth, Ont., led the charge against Latvia with two goals, including the game-winner with 8.9 seconds left in what had been a rough second period for the Ontario University Athletics all-stars.
Leading 2-0 after 20 minutes, Canada saw a physical Latvian team tie things up in the middle frame on a pair of highlight-reel goals. The OUA standouts regrouped in the third however, adding two insurance markers and dominating 13-5 in shots on goal to finish the night with a 38-23 advantage.
Pierre-Olivier Morin of Trois-Rivières, Que., with his fifth of the competition, Corey Durocher of Ottawa and Slater Doggett of Oakville, Ont., also scored for the winners, while rearguard Alex Basso of Toronto chipped in with a pair of assists.
Making his third start in Almaty, netminder Kevin Bailie of Belleville, Ont., was rock solid, turning aside 21 of 23 pucks fired his way.
“There’s nothing wrong with some adversity at this tournament. I give full credit to Latvia and their coaching staff. They made adjustments that we didn’t see on video the last couple of days, so full credit to them,” said Team Canada head coach Brett Gibson from Queen’s University.
“I’m proud of our guys. They came to work, we faced adversity… we became a hockey team tonight. They responded after the second period. I thought we had a horrible second period, I challenged them between periods to go back to playing our way, and they went to work right from the first shift of the third. It makes me proud as a coach.”
“Obviously there was a little stress there. They’re a fast team and we sort of panicked there in the second. Getting that goal, it was just big for the team, it was big to have the lead going into the third,” said McNamee, who now has three goals at the tournament and leads the team with nine points in four games. “We weren’t surprised by the opposition. Anybody can win on any night. It’s the quarter-finals, so obviously they’re going to come out and play their hardest. They gave us a good fight.”
Morin opened the scoring 7:29 into the first period when he tipped a Basso point shot past goalie Ints Bikars.
With 3:25 left before the first intermission, Brett Welychka had a glorious chance to double the Canadian lead but he was robbed point blank by Bikars.
The all-important second goal would come a few minutes later however. With the teams playing 4-on-4, Durocher took a perfect feed from behind the net from Scott Simmonds and made it 2-0 with 91 seconds remaining before the break.
The middle stanza was somewhat uneventful until the 10:12 mark, when Latvia brought the crowd to its feet with a spectacular goal. Maris Dilevka raced into the Canadian zone and then fooled two defencemen with a no-look, backhand pass to a charging Olegs Sislannikovs, who proceeded to beat Bailie to his left.
The Latvians continued to put on the pressure and made it a 2-2 affair at 18:52 with another highlight-reel goal, this time with Sislannikovs sending a pass across the crease to Olafs Aploks, who tipped the puck behind Bailie.
Luck was on Canada’s side 59 seconds later – 8.9 seconds before the horn – when McNamee was credited with the game-winner on a bizarre play. The Carleton forward fired a shot at the net and the puck got stuck under the skate of a Latvian defenceman, who accidentally pushed it into his own net as he was trying to clear it from under his foot.
The intensity was palpable in the first half of the third period and Doggett finally gave Canada some breathing room at 9:59 on the power play, when he fired in a rebound off a Spencer Abraham shot.
McNamee rounded out the scoring and put the game out of reach with 2:47 remaining.
Gibson and his players couldn’t be more excited to face a powerful Russian team that boasts nine players with KHL experience on its roster.
“I get chills just hearing those two words. I’ve been waiting my whole life to coach in a Canada-Russia game. I’ll make sure our guys are ready to go,” said Gibson.
“It’s a first time for many of us. It’s exciting, it’s big. There’s obviously tons of history behind the rivalry. We’re looking forward to it,” added McNamee.
McGill University teammates Mathieu Pompei and Nathan Chiarlitti are also thrilled about the upcoming duel at the top.
“It’s a Hollywood script,” said Pompei, who has three assists in four games in Almaty. “You see it at every World Juniors, every World Cup. Personally, I’ve never played against Russia. Every guy in the room is looking forward to it.”
“We can’t wait,” said Chiarlitti, a defenceman who was celebrating his 25th birthday on Saturday. “I’ve played them a couple of times, I think at the under-17 and then in the Super Series in major junior. I think I’m 2-0, so hopefully we’ll make it three in a row on Tuesday.”
NOTES: Since 1997, Canada has been represented at the biennial Universiade men’s hockey tournament by each of the three U SPORTS conferences on a rotating basis… The Canada West all-stars captured bronze in 2015 in Spain, giving Canada its 14th medal in 15 appearances at the competition, including gold in 2013 (AUS all-stars), 2007 (AUS all-stars), 1991 (Canadian national team) and 1981 (University of Alberta)… In three previous appearances, OUA skaters have won bronze in 1999 (Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia) and 2011 (Erzurum, Turkey) and finished fifth in 2005 (Innsbruck, Austria).