February 16, 2010; Vancouver, BC, CANADA; Canada hockey fans celebrate after a goal in the second period against Norway during the preliminary round of group A play of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics at the Canada Hockey Place. Canada defeated Norway 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Rielly Sparks Comeback As Team Canada Rallies To Beat Slovakia

After defeating Germany in commanding fashion, Team Canada took on the surprise team out of Slovakia in their second game of preliminary play.

If the Canadians expected to roll past the Slovaks into the weekend, they were probably left scratching their heads or pulling their hair out in disbelief after 30 minutes.  Team Canada took a lot of penalties early and allowed Slovakia to utilize their neutral-zone trap to perfection. Canadian forwards Anthony Camara and JC Lipon were both ejected from the game for head shots as the contest began to look like the perfect nightmare.

Slovakia jumped out to the early lead as Mark Dano buried a loose puck in a mad scramble in front of goaltender Malcolm Subban.

Canada trailed 2-0 after one period but when Ryan Strome finally broke the goose egg, it appeared Canada was going to make their move.  However, the major penalty to Lipon for a high hit made for a lengthy 5-on-3 power play for Slovakia.  The Slovaks would make good on the advantage as Dano notched his second of the game to regain the two-goal lead.  Canada would respond with a 5-on-3 of their own, thanks in part to some brilliant acting by Dougie Hamilton.

Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs 5th overall 2012 draft pick: Morgan Rielly.

Rielly took a pass in the high-slot from Mark Scheifele and put the one-timer past Slovak net-minder Adam Nagy.  It was on.

A frustrated Scheifele, who had been a victim on a number of knee-on-knees and head shots which went un-penalized, displayed his Class A acting on a weak cross-check.  This put Canada back on the power play and Xavier Ouellet found Ty Rattie at the side of the net, where he made a highlight-reel deflection to put the puck past Nagy to tie the game at threes.

Then, with just under a minute to play in the period, Scheifele put Canada up by a goal heading into the locker room.

In the third period, Team Canada took complete control of the game.  The pace quickened and the Slovaks were unable to contain the high-powered Canadian attack after falling behind. Strome went on to score his second of the game and captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also found the twine.

Rielly finished the game with a goal and two assists and Scheifele was named the game’s MVP in the 6-3 win.

The early game, the one likely nobody woke up for, was the Czech Republic-Finland at 2:30 ET.

The Czechs were able to score twice in less than two minutes during the first period.  They never looked back.  Teuvo Teravainen was able to cut the lead in half on a power play, but the Czechs held on and solidified the win with an empty net goal.

The Finns, who shocked Canada and the U.S. with pre-tournament wins, were made to look very ordinary against Czech Republic.  The leader in Pool A would then be decided in the Sweden-Switzerland game.

The Suisse surprised the Swedes in the opening frame with the only goal.  The Swedes came out and dominated, but the Swiss appeared well-coached and played excellent team defense.

Sebastian Collberg would tie the game in the second period, but Switzerland was able to regain the lead just minutes later on a goal by Mike Kunzle.

However, unlike the Czechs, the Swiss were unable to close out the win for the upset.  Emil Djuse tied the game in the third period and the deadlock would endure through overtime.

In the shootout, the Swedes made a surprise switch in goal.  Niklas Lundström replaced starting goaltender Joel Lassinantti for the shootout.  Lundström faced largely unimpressive attempts by the Swiss and stopped all three.  Victor Rask scored the only shootout goal for Sweden as they avoided the upset, however only receiving two points for the overtime win.

Lastly, the attention shifted to the host-nation as they took on Team USA for what would be the game of the day.

As expected, Russia came out of the gate quickly, eager to rectify their unimpressive performance in their first game against Slovakia.  And wouldn’t you know it, Albert Yarullin, the overtime hero in the first game, took a similar shot from the high-slot to give Russia the early lead under three minutes into the game.

However, the Americans were able to neutralize the Russians in the second period and Jacob Trouba tied the game midway through the game.  The momentum had completely shifted and the Russians began to show their frustration, as what appeared to be the case against Slovakia.

The Americans continued to control the game until the 4:10 mark of the third period.  Valeri Nichushkin was finally able to break through the stiff American defense as he led an end-to-end rush one can only marvel at.  He was able to get to the front of the net and force a rebound, which Vladimir Tkachyov put past John Gibson.

The crowd jumped out of their seats and hardly had a chance to sit back down as the Russians began to attack in waves from that point on.  With four minutes left in regulation, Gibson made a spectacular save on a breakaway to keep the Americans in it.

Ironically, the game very well may have come down to the player who has struggled to find his feet so far in the tournament.  The 2012 first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov has had a rocky start to the tournament, but laid out to make a key block with just seconds left in the game. Although he cashed in on an assist today, his impact has been limited through the first two games.

Russia held off the Americans for a 2-1 victory in an action-packed tilt between two of the tournament favourites.

Overall, every game today brought excitement and intrigue to the standings.  Canada now leads Pool B and the Swedes are in control in Pool A.

As for Canada, there are two game misconduct penalties to be reviewed by the International Ice Hockey Federation for possible suspensions.  As stated, the Camara hit was deemed clean at first, but finally issued after the Slovak player laid motionless on the ground for several minutes.  Don’t expect Camara to be suspended.

JC Lipon on the other hand, is a different matter entirely.  He came in hard and aimed high with his hands up.  I don’t see Lipon avoiding a suspension, although no injury resulted on the hit.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie believes Lipon’s hit is not suspendable because no injury occurred.  I disagree.

Every hit should be reviewed apart from the result.  The reason for these rules is not to strictly punish players for causing injury, but rather to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.  If an illegal hit takes place, the IIHF should not allow the player to get away with the offence simply because the recipient did not sustain an injury.  If so, these hits will continue to happen and players will continue to get hurt.

Next up for Canada, Team USA on Sunday.

You guessed it, same time and same place.  Wake up Canada, it’s World Junior time!

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Tags: Team Canada Team Finland Team Russia Team Sweden Team USA World Junior Championships World Junior Hockey Championship

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