Wednesday night’s Super Series game between the WHL and Team Russia was supposed to be a battle between the top two picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray. Unfortunately, Yakupov fizzled in the face of physicality and Murray was solid, yet unspectacular.
Instead, it became a battle between two goaltenders, Andrei Makarov for Russia and Laurent Brossoit for the WHL.
The two goaltenders could not have more divergent styles: Brossoit is cool and calm in the net, using his size and positioning to efficiently stop pucks, while Makarov is smaller and more athletic with more of a scrambly style, battling for loose pucks and moving quickly from post-to-post. Whatever their differences in style, however, they were equal to each other in regulation, stopping every shot that was sent in their direction.
Makarov, who was signed to a three-year entry-level deal in September by the Buffalo Sabres, plays for the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL, so he was familiar with his opponents. The other side of that blade, however, is that his opponents were familiar with him as well. The broadcasters frequently mentioned that Hunter Shinkeruk felt that he “had the book” on Makarov, saying that the key was to go “high glove.”
That book didn’t seem to matter, as Makarov shut the door all game long. His best moments came in the third period, particularly on an early powerplay, as he made a trio of reaction saves in a mad scramble in front of the net, getting his elbow up to knock away one shot that was headed “high glove.” He finished with 35 saves, including a massive save on Brady Brassart in the middle of the third period.
Brossoit, a sixth round draft pick from 2011 by the Calgary Flames, didn’t look like he was going to dominate early on. The very first shot he faced squeezed between his glove and left pad, trickling past him and going off the post. After that rough start, however, he settled in and showed exactly why he was the MVP of the WHL playoffs last season.
His biggest save came on Evgeni Mozer in the second period, as Mozer was sprung on a breakaway but couldn’t get his wristshot over Brossoit’s left pad. He made a total of 30 saves, including a number of great stops on 2-on-1 rushes and a stellar kick save on a tricky Valeri Nichushkin spin-o-rama backhand.
My notes for this game ended up becoming repetitive as the game wore on, featuring line after line of saves. They seemed unbeatable all night and Brossoit actually was, stopping all three shootout attempts he faced after the game. Makarov, on the other hand, stopped just one of four attempts. He was beat by Shinkaruk – where else? – high glove, couldn’t get down into his butterfly fast enough to stop Mark McNeill from going five-hole, and fell prey to a gorgeous move by Sam Reinhart, the younger brother of Islanders prospect Griffin Reinhart, who also played for the WHL.
Sam Reinhart, incidentally, just turned 17 and isn’t draft-eligible until 2014. He had a very effective game, making intelligent passes, winning faceoffs, and not shying away from the dirty areas on the ice. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
Ironically, the lowest scoring game of the series featured the highest number of total shots on goal and was the most fast-paced and entertaining. The WHL made their gameplan clear from the outset, as Adam Lowry and McNeill sandwiched Nail Yakupov on the first shift of the game. From then on, it was hitting left, right, and centre.
Travis Ewanyk, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, was intent on making his presence felt on the ice, lining up three massive hits in the first period. One of them was very late, earning him a trip to the penalty box, but his hits on Anton Shenfeld and Kirill Kapustin were perfectly timed and devastating.
Unfortunately for Ewanyk, those hits also earned him the attention of Mikhail Naumenkov, who wiped him out with a picture perfect hip check along the boards early in the second period, ending his night. Naumenkov has been impressive all series with his physical play, but has also been steady defensively and makes a good first pass. It seems entirely likely that the only reason he hasn’t been drafted into the NHL is the same uncertainty surrounding many Russian prospects about whether they will come over to North America.
Leafs fans will be happy to know that Morgan Rielly was quite good. On a team with five first round draft picks on defence (and one sure to go in the first round in 2013), Rielly stood out, though that’s mainly because of his willingness to stickhandle into dangerous areas and rush the puck into the offensive zone.
His soft hands, superb vision, and great passing were all on display, particularly during a first period powerplay, but I wonder how effective he’ll be with less time and space to pull off his favourite dangles. He did get absolutely rocked by Yaroslav Kosov behind the WHL net in the second period and I worry that will happen more often in the faster NHL. In any case, he had a good game and was frequently the most dangerous player on the ice.
Yakupov seemed to disappear after the first period, though he had a few moments sprinkled here and there where he looked threatening. This game does provide some fuel for those who argue that Yakupov can be shutdown by physical play, but he had several good shifts after the early first period hits that he took, including some fine work on the powerplay.
Russia’s best forward was instead Nichushkin, who has seemed to get better every game. His puckhandling skill is extraordinary and he combined it with fluid skating to gain the offensive zone with possession. His spinning backhand shot in the second period would have been the highlight of the entire series if Brossoit’s left pad had been a little slower. It’s regrettable that he wasn’t one of the first three shooters for Russia, as I’m sure he would have put on a show.
Finally, I want to note how much pain and suffering Anton Shenfeld went through in the first five minutes of this game. He had the first shot of the game for Russia, the one that squeezed through Brossoit and hit the post. After that shot, he was wiped out by Griffin Reinhart and went into the boards hard. A little later, he was rocked by Travis Ewanyk as he cut into the slot with his head down. A moment after that, he was hit again by Griffin Reinhart, this time from behind, face first into the boards.
Poor guy just couldn’t help getting run over in that first five minutes.