| Canada-Russia Challenge Schedule |
|Date ||Location ||Venue ||Result
|Aug. 9 ||Yaroslavl, RUS ||Arena 2000 |
|CAN 3 RUS 2 |
|Aug. 10 ||Yaroslavl, RUS ||Arena 2000 |
|RUS 6 CAN 3 |
|Aug. 13 ||Halifax, NS ||Halifax Metro Centre ||RUS 6 CAN 5 |
|Aug. 14 ||Halifax, NS |
|Halifax Metro Centre ||CAN 5 RUS 2 (OT) |
|* All times Eastern |
No matter how many goals Ryan Strome winds up with in his professional and international hockey career, there’s no doubt he will always remember the one he scored for his country Tuesday night.
At 4:02 of the overtime tiebreaker, with the four-game Canada-Russia Challenge Championship on the line, Strome beat highly-touted Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski on a quick wrist shot to give Team Canada the series win. The Islanders first-round (fifth overall) draft selection in 2011 remembers the sequence of events that made him the tournament hero.
“The puck kind of squirted free and it was a 3-on-3,” Strome said. “I was originally looking to pass but saw the defenseman go down, so I pulled it around him and took the shot. It was a pretty good screen in front of the goalie. I don’t think he saw it right away.”
Though the series was labeled as an exhibition, expectations were high for Team Canada. After all, the event marked the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series, a heated eight-game battle between the Canadian and USSR squads during the height of the Cold War. Strome said the magnitude of the 2012 event didn’t hit the team until they arrived in Russia prior to Game 1.
READ: ISLANDERS READY FOR CANADA-RUSSIA CHALLENGE
“I really didn’t think it was going to be as serious as it was until I got there,” Strome said. “Obviously it’s just the middle of the summer and an exhibition series, but once we got there we realized it was a bigger deal than we originally expected. Hockey Canada was really looking to win the event.”
Canada won the first game of the four-game series 3-2 in Yaroslavl, RUS, but spent the next two games chasing the lead. The Russian team won Game 2 by a 6-3 margin on home soil and skated to a 6-5 victory in Game 3 in Halifax, NS.
“We were taking a lot of penalties,” Strome said. “We weren’t really playing smart and Russia has a pretty skilled group. They were taking advantage of that and they picked us apart a little bit in games two and three.”
Like their 1972 predecessors, Strome and co. found themselves with their backs against the wall the next night in a must-win finale. Canada needed to take Game 4 in regulation to knot the series and force a tiebreaker.
“I don’t think at any point was it in our mind that we weren’t going to come out on top,” Strome said. “We talked about it all week. It was just a matter of finding our game. We finally pulled it together and had a good 60-minute effort.”
That effort resulted in a 4-2 victory for Canada in Game 4 and a 2-2 tie in the overall series. After an intermission, the teams took the ice for a 20-minute, 4-on-4 sudden death period to determine the series winner.
That’s when Strome, who already had a goal and two assists in the series, stepped it up one more notch. After scoring the series-winning goal, the 19-year-old was completely overcome by the emotion brought on from the home crowd’s reaction.
“When it’s finally over and you see the big audience watching and how happy people are that we won, that obviously made it special,” Strome said. “We were such a tight-knit group and there were only 28 of us. When you see the support of your home country, family and friends, it seems like we made a lot of people proud and it was a pretty big deal.”
Many Canadian alumni of the 1972 series, including Phil Esposito and Ken Dryden, were on hand for the tournament offering advice to the squad. Strome says his team was all ears when one of the veterans from ‘72 stepped up to talk.
“Those guys were pretty motivational,” Strome said. “They stressed they had their time 40 years ago and it was a big day in hockey history back then, but now it’s our turn to carry on the tradition. I think that kind of pushed us over the top and made us pretty excited and motivated to win.”
Strome hopes to score his share of big goals in the coming years for the Islanders. At 19, he may play another year of junior hockey before he makes it to New York full-time, but whether it’s next season or down the road, Strome hopes to carry on the Islander winning tradition from decades ago, as he did for Team Canada last week.
WATCH GAME 4 HIGHLIGHTS | WATCH STROME POSTGAME | CANADA-RUSSIA BLOG