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Lightning hopefuls prosper at World Juniors opener

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

A pair of Lightning prospects enjoyed a good day Monday at the opener of the 2011 World Junior Championships in Alberta, Canada.

Brett Connolly, currently on temporary leave from the big club to participate in the tournament, scored a goal to help Team Canada to victory in an 8-1 rout of Finland.

Two Russian prospects selected in this past summer’s draft, Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov, also helped their respective side to a win as Russia blanked Switzerland 3-0, with Kucherov tallying an assist.

Canada and Finland squared off for nearly the first time in four years, but the long layover between the clubs didn’t seem to affect the Canadian squad.

The game remained close even after the first 20 minutes, when Canada held just a one-goal lead just before the halfway point of the contest. But, after three consecutive goals by Canada’s Mark Stone, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dougie Hamilton, Lightning forward Brett Connolly added an insurance goal to kick off the third period’s scoring. Canada scored twice more in the final frame to seal the win, which gave the club three points in the Group B standings.

“I’m happy we got off to the start we did," Connolly said. "We did a good job. We had a great start and the fans were very loud. That’s always good for the guys.”

In the late game, both the Russians and Swiss sides came out hitting and skating in the first period, and while the Swiss had the better of the play early on, the opportunistic Russians struck first on a spectacular solo effort.

Alexander Khokhlachev notched the first goal after gathering a turnover in the neutral zone and taking it to the house for a second-period one-goal lead. After Nikita Gusev put his team up by two, Kucherov assisted on the game’s final goal by setting up Mikhail Grigorenko as the pair finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play on the rush to give the Russians an insurmountable three-goal lead and the win.

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