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Oakville connection plays it large

by Brad Holland
Stefan Legein and Team Canada faced a determined Russian squad in Game 4 of the 2007 Super Series.
If Stefan Legein and his teammates thought Team Russia would lay down for them in Game 4 of the 2007 Super Series, they had another thing coming Saturday. Russia roared out of the gate, fueled by their fans, by far the loudest of any previous crowds.

“I think today was the toughest game so far,” Legein said after the 4-2 Canada win that has staked the Canadians to a 4-0 lead in the eight-game series. “They’re playing for pride; I mean, we won the first three games all in their country, so they were playing for respect today. They got it.”

Canada was out-shot 18-9 in the first and hung on to the end, giving up more than a few quality chances to the dangerous Russian forwards. But goaltender Steve Mason held the fort and Canada managed to escape the first period with a 1-0 lead. It was a lead they never relinquished en route to the victory.

If you had thought this was a surprise to Legein and his teammates, this time it would be you who had another thing coming.

“That was our game plan coming in,” he said. “We want to win all eight, and this was the first step. We saw tonight how hard they can play, but we’re still looking to take all eight.”

Team Canada will now have four-straight chances to clinch the Series, the first on Tuesday, at 8 p.m. in Winnipeg. In addition, coach Brent Sutter will be going for his 17th-straight win behind the bench of Team Canada.

“That’s something amazing, it speaks wonders about what he’s like as a coach,” Legein said. “But it’s nothing we’re focusing on. We’re just trying to win hockey games.”

They’re doing a pretty good job so far. Team Canada has outscored the Russians by a combined score of 17-6, has killed off over 30-straight penalties, limiting the offensively gifted Russians to only one power-play goal, and has chased Semen Varlamov from the Russian

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net twice. It would also be fair to say that Team Canada is winning the psychological battle, physically pounding the Russian forwards and wreaking havoc in the offensive zone.

At the forefront of the Series is a group of friends who grew up playing with and around one another – Legein, a Columbus Blue Jackets draftee, John Tavares (2009 draft eligible), Edmonton Oilers pick Sam Gagner and goaltender Steve Mason, another Columbus draftee.

Each of these players grew up in Oakville Ontario. That’s an impressive array of young talent for a city of roughly 165,000 people.

“Yeah, we’re really churning them out there,” Legein laughed.

He also noted just how special it was to be able to play with boyhood friends for his team, for his country.

“I played with Mase growing up and I played with Johnny in summer hockey, but I knew them all growing up,” he said. “So it’s been fun. It’s my first experience with Hockey Canada and it was good to have friends right off the bat and then you come here and you get to make new friends. It’s really been amazing.”

The four friends have really taken their toll on the Russians. Mason has two wins in the series and has allowed only four goals in those two games. Gagner, who has three goals and seven points in the series, has been a force offensively for the Canadians. Legein has also contributed three goals and three points total, but his most lasting contributions have likely been on the penalty kill with linemate Brandon Sutter. Tavares scored his first goal of the Series Saturday on, first, a twisting behind the back pass from a seated Claude Giroux, and then on a centering pass from Gagner.

Tavares leapt into Gagner’s arms for his celebration likely bringing back memories from the two Juniors of the days when they used to play together, only against one another, on a backyard rink that Gagner’s father, Dave, constructed for them. Perhaps fittingly, Legein could only smile from the bench.

“I never got the invite,” Legein said of his friends’ backyard practices, and laughed. “I wasn’t that good as a kid. I wasn’t good enough to play with the dynamic duo of Johnny and Sammy.”

The friends’ paths have taken different directions and getting them all on the same backyard ice surface would be a challenge.

“It would be something to watch,” Legein said.

In the meantime, the rest of us will have to be satisfied with watching the Oakvillians on the big stage, under the bright lights, in the jersey they dreamed about wearing as kids. And heading back to Canadian soil up 4-0 is just another aspect of the Series Legein and his teammates can get excited about.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Legein said. “It’s going to be unbelievable. There’s going to be so much adrenaline running through the guys for that game for sure.”

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