What do you get when you cram a four-game hockey series into a six-day stretch and host it on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean? In the case of the Canada-Russia Challenge, 28 weary members of the Canadian under-20 team.
The squad hit the ice at the Metro Centre for practice on Sunday, fresh off a split against host Russia in Yaroslavl last Thursday and Friday followed by almost 18 hours of travel by bus and plane.
The 90-minute session helped them shake off jet lag as they prepare to host Russia in Halifax on Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. to wrap up the pre-season tournament, which commemorates the 1972 Summit Series.
“Not a whole lot of sleep was had the past few days,” admitted defenceman Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in June’s NHL draft. “But we have to battle through it. We’re here now and that’s all that matters.”
Immediately following Friday’s game, the team bussed more than 250 kilometres to Moscow and spent several hours at the airport before flying 3,000 kilometres to London. They spent another few hours there before flying another 4,000 kilometres across the Atlantic to Halifax, where they arrived on Saturday at 3:15 p.m.
Throw in a broken air conditioner on the bus and lines and delays at airports, and Canada’s brightest young stars are getting a rude awakening from the off-season at a time when most junior hockey players are still relaxing at home.
But it’s not all bad news.
“They had some meals together, they were kibitzing in the airport, they really did have a good time,” said Canadian head coach Steve Spott. “As difficult as it was, they made the best of it. You could see the Western, Quebec, Ontario and NCAA kids coming together.”
Canada won the first game 3-2 but ran into discipline problems in the second contest and ended up losing 6-3. Staying out of the penalty box will be critical against a skilled team led by No. 1 overall NHL draft pick Nail Yakupov.
“The first game, we had more energy and took it to them, the second game we had penalty trouble and it drained us on the big ice, and we got frustrated,” said defenceman Dougie Hamilton. “We just have to get back to working hard and get the puck in their end more often.”
The Canadian players know the historical significance of the Challenge, having watched a documentary on the 1972 Summit Series as part of training camp in Toronto earlier this month.
Although it’s a pre-season tournament designed for management to evaluate players for the 2013 IIHF world junior championship, Canada has no interest in losing to Russia.
“We’re not here to just have a couple of games and head home,” Rielly said. “We’re here to win and that’s our goal. We’ll be coming out hard in these two games and expecting to win.”
CANADA-RUSSIA CHALLENGE NOTES
* More than 7,000 fans are expected for the Canada-Russia Challenge on Monday, according to organizers.
* Defenceman Griffin Reinhart, the fourth overall selection of the New York Islanders in June’s NHL draft, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
* Laurent Brossoit of the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings is expected to start in goal on Monday.
* Goaltenders Vladislav Tretiak and Ken Dryden, stars of the 1972 Summit Series, will be at the Metro Centre to take in the action.