It was an unforgettable week for Winnipeg Jets prospects Mark Scheifele and Lukas Sutter who donned Canadian jerseys for the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge last week. The challenge celebrated the 40th anniversary of the infamous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, the memorable eight-game tournament that Canada won 4-3 with one tie.
Prior to the puck drop on the first game in Yaroslavl, Russia, there was a moment of silence in memory of the families and victims of the Lokomotiv plane crash, last September 7th in Yaroslavl. Canada held on for a 3-2 victory and outshot the Russians 28-21 to open the series.
“It was definitely an experience to be a part of that- to feel what the city went through,” Mark Scheifele said in a phone conversation from his home in Kitchener, ON. “To see how far they’ve come since that crash, and seeing that they have a KHL team back there and how strong their fans are there is a pretty cool thing.”
This tournament is described as an “exhibition” series however, if you had a chance to watch any of the games, the hockey proved that it was much more than exhibition.
“To play against the best players in Russia its something that you’ll always remember. Being called an exhibition series is definitely not what it’s like at all. It was a hard-fought series and everyone was battling. It’s something you really want to take pride in and you really want to do it for your country.”
After winning the first game, Canada fell 6-3 to Russia in an undisciplined penalty-filled Game 2 in Russia. Scheifele was ejected in the first period on a game misconduct after a kneeing call on Kirill Kapustin.
“It’s different rules and different refereeing over there and there was nothing I could do,” Scheifele said about the hit. “It was no intention on my part, I just wanted to finish my check and it so happened that I caught his knee. It’s past me now and I didn’t dwell on it.”
Kapustin went on in that game to score a hat-trick helping lift the Russians to victory. Team Canada would have to bounce back quickly and have a much better outing in Halifax, in hopes of finding some redemption.
“A lot of the guys from last year had that bitter taste in their mouth from losing to them and losing in the finals two years before that. There is some anger, you want to beat them and show them what you have. That rivalry will always be there because they are two great hockey nations and they both want to show that they are better.”
It was a long haul for both teams as the series shifted to Halifax, Canada. After traveling nearly 24 hours, they arrived on home soil, a little tired, but running on adrenaline.
“It was a lot of sleeping in weird spots,” Scheifele chuckled. “Finding anywhere to rest and eating whatever you could. It was definitely tough. Guys were sleeping on their hockey bags and sleeping on the floors at the airport. That was the time that brought the guys closer together the most.”
Canada played catch-up for most of the game as the scoreboard continued to climb. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Russia's Andrei Sigarev scored the winning goal with 6:23 remaining and the Russians were able to hold off to beat Canada 6-5, in front of thousands of passionate Canadian fans.
“The fans really gave us a lot of energy and a really warm welcoming,” said Scheifele. “To be able to play in a city like that, that loves hockey so much was great. They gave us that extra energy and that extra boost to help us take the series.”
Canada got another boost before the final game on Tuesday night. Ken Dryden, the goaltender who played in the 1972 Summit Series, came a visit to the dressing room to give a pre-game pep talk. Phil Esposito, who captained the 1972 Team Canada, also phoned in to wish Team Canada the best of luck before the game.
“It was very very inspiring to hear from a guy (Esposito) who went through the Summit Series back in ’72 and was such a main part in that. It really gave us a lot of motivation. We got to see what it was like back then and how it is now. That rivalry is still always going to be there and everyone takes it seriously.
“Dryden told us that a lot of people look in the past and think it’s just an anniversary, but you have to look at it in the now. This was our moment to seize and our moment to make history. He gave a lot of guys inspiration for that game.”
Canada needed a win in regulation time to tie the Challenge 2-2. Portland Winterhawks forward Ty Rattie, scored two power-play goals in under three minutes in the second period and Scheifele added three assists to help Canada take a 4-2 victory to set up the 20-minute sudden-death overtime to decide who would win the series.
“We were called upon for that game, production wasn’t going as well as we’d hoped,” said Scheifele. “Everyone really buckled down. We all really wanted to have a good game; we wanted to really show what we have. It was nice to have production from everyone.”
Ryan Strome pulled a nice ‘pull-and-drag’ wrist shot out of his sleeve in overtime that found its way into to the mesh 3:20 into the extra period, to give Canada the victory.
“It’s something I’ll always remember. We treated it like a Game 7. It was like winning a Game 7 in overtime. Everyone was so pumped, I haven’t been that happy in a very long time. It was definitely the stand-out moment for me.”
Author: Kristi Hennessy, Winnipegjets.com