Canada East falls to Russia in WJAC opener

BONNYVILLE, Alta. – Vasily Podkolzin scored twice in the second period to give Russia a little breathing room, and it held off a third-period push to earn a 5-3 win over Canada East in the opening game Sunday at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge.

It’s the seventh time in the last eight meetings that the Russians have topped the easterners, and the fourth year in a row it has started its schedule with a victory.

Semion Chistiakov and Ilya Nikolaev chipped in with two assists apiece for Russia, which took control with a three-goal second period, during which it outshot the Canadians 18-7.

Jamie Engelbert (Whitby, Ont./Cobourg, OJHL) had a pair of goals for East, which could never get closer than two in the final 20 minutes despite controlling the play for much of the period.

Maksim Groshev was first onto the scoreboard for Russia, letting go a wrist shot from just inside the blue-line that got up and over the blocker of Canadian goaltender Liam Soulière (Amos, Que./Brockville, CCHL) at the 11:27 mark of the first period.

Rodion Amirov doubled the advantage early in the second, taking advantage of a misplay behind the East net and tucking in a wraparound, but Ryland Mosley (Arnprior, Ont./Carleton Place, CCHL) and Spencer Kersten (Waterloo, Ont./Oakville, OJHL) combined on a shorthanded goal just two minutes later to get East on the board.

Podkolzin, widely expected to be a top-10 pick in next summer’s NHL draft, went to work after that, scoring twice in less than three minutes to extend the Russian lead to three.

He showed off his hands on the first goal, dangling in the slot before snapping a backhand past Soulière at 13:36, and was Johnny-on-the-spot at the side of the net to knock in a loose puck for the 4-1 goal at 16:28.

Engelbert got his first just 57 seconds into the third period when he chipped a rebound past Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov, but Dmitrii Shishin answered only 50 seconds after that to restore the three-goal advantage.

Engelbert added a consolation marker with less than nine minutes to go, but the Canadians would get no closer.

East had a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal in the third period, although the Russians held a 35-29 edge overall.

Both teams are back in action Monday; Russia is up first, taking on the Czech Republic in a rematch of the 2017 bronze medal game (2 p.m. MT), before East meets West in the first-ever all-Canadian preliminary-round match-up (7 p.m. MT).

Photo credit: Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images