Kelowna Rockets captain Nolan Foote (Tampa Bay Lightning) delivered on the big stage Thursday night, scoring twice in regulation and twice more in a special shootout to deliver the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series to the Canadian Hockey League at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, Sask.
“It was an intense game,” Foote said. “I thought we had them in the first period, they got two goals, but they came out hard in the second period and those power plays we had definitely got momentum for the team.
“The guys were going.”
Like Game 5, Game 6 began with one team buzzing as it was Russia who had to withstand an impressive start by Team WHL. Russia would eventually pounce in the opening period off of Lev Komissarov’s second of the tournament. Early on in the second, Russia doubled their lead as Ilya Kruglov buried his first of the event.
With Russia falling into penalty trouble later on in the second, Team WHL would strike at the right moment and begin to fill the back of the net.
Put onto the man advantage, Team WHL needed all of 15 seconds to score as a point shot from Spokane Chiefs captain Ty Smith (New Jersey Devils) was tipped by Foote and past the Russian goaltender.
Just minutes later, Team WHL found themselves on a five-on-three power play for 1:55 and again took full advantage. This time, it took them 16 seconds to strike as a shot from Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres) rebounded in front. Foote was on the doorstep and ready to pot home his second goal of the night.
With Russia still attempting to kill off the remainder of the second power play, Team WHL struck again. A pretty passing play led to Moose Jaw Warriors forward Brayden Tracey (Anaheim Ducks) feeding the puck down low to 2020 NHL Draft prospect Connor Zary of the Kamloops Blazers, who then set up Medicine Hat Tigers forward Ryan Chyzowski in the low slot to give Team WHL the 3-2 lead.
As much as the game intensified for both sides, there was the opportunity for those involved to soak in the moment.
“It’s been a dream come true,” said Prince Albert product and Team WHL defenceman Braden Schneider. “You grow up watching this your whole life in this rink for me. It’s been an unreal experience.”
Midway through the third, Russia answered back with Zakhar Shablovskii’s first of the series to pull his side even.
With the game prolonged into a five-round shootout, it was Russia claiming the 4-3 victory in the final game, but the series was far from done.
Now tied in points from the series, the two teams returned to the shootout to solve the tie and Team WHL wouldn’t be beaten twice.
After a miss in the first round, goals in back-to-back rounds by Foote and the Game 5 hero, Lethbridge Hurricanes defenceman Calen Addison (Pittsburgh Penguins), gave Team WHL the advantage.
Meanwhile Portland Winterhawks goaltender Joel Hofer (St. Louis Blues) continued to stand on his head. He made 29 saves in regulation and overtime before taking the loss in the first shootout. Given a chance to redeem himself in the second shootout, he allowed just two goals in the seven-round contest.
As for Foote, he put an end to things in the seventh round, beating Amir Miftakhov for the series-winning goal after out-waiting the goaltender and roofing it top shelf.
“It’s really good because it’s such a big test for the World Juniors,” Foote said. “They’re evaluating so it feels good. Hopefully I showed them my game play.
“It’s good for Team WHL to pull through for the CHL.”
Scoring Leaders – Team WHL
1. Nolan Foote – 2G-1A-3PTS
T2. Calen Addison – 1G-1A-2PTS
T2. Bowen Byram – 1G-1A-2PTS
T2. Dylan Cozens – 0G-2A-2PTS
T2. Ty Smith – 0G-2A-2PTS