2019 World Juniors: Canada Passes Stress Test from Swiss

VANCOUVER — Max Comtois could play for Ernie McLean. So could Jaret Anderson-Dolan and No. 10 from Switzerland too, that being Yannick Bruschweiler.

McLean, perhaps better known as Punch, is a legendary Lower Mainland coach who led the New Westminster Bruins for two decades — through the rough and tumble ’70s and ’80s. They were the big, bad Bruins of the wild West as the WHL was formed, playing in four straight Memorial Cups and winning consecutive national junior championships in 1977 and 1978.

Now 86 years old, McLean was my press box companion Thursday night, along with his constant companion — his wife of 60-plus years, Fran. He’s still a big fan of the sport and tells me this is his seat during Vancouver Canucks home games, which he never misses.

Comtois, who is captaining Canada with the kind of pugnacity that would have endeared him to McLean back in the day, was a clear favourite as a throwback player finishing every check and going out of his way to make contact.

McLean also asked for the scoop on Anderson-Dolan, taking a liking to his playing style and speed. Ditto for Bruschweiler, who I didn’t have the book on as an unheralded, undrafted and undersized 19-year-old that has stood out to me as well for his determination through two games.

Those three may not have found the back of the net Thursday — Comtois tied a Team Canada record with four goals and Anderson-Dolan netted one in a Boxing Day beatdown of Denmark — but they caught the keen eye of that former iron-fisted bench boss watching from above.

Asked if he missed being behind the bench, McLean said “not anymore.” He’s content as a spectator nowadays.

Friendly as can be upon our first-ever meeting — be it talking hockey or comparing property values between Vancouver and small-town Saskatchewan, from which we both hail, with McLean relocating his hometown Estevan Bruins to this region for the 1971-72 campaign — but let it be known, you still wouldn’t want to cross him. Punch is a big man who carries a big presence, always has and always will.

As for Thursday’s standouts on the scoresheet . . .

Canada 3, Switzerland 2

It only took 36 seconds for Cody Glass to get the party raging again inside Rogers Arena, ripping home a quick shot from the slot to open the scoring for Canada.

There was a brief sense of ‘here we go again’ but Switzerland pushed back and did a much better job of keeping up throughout. Canada wasn’t as crisp as the night before — the execution just wasn’t at the same level — but full credit to the Swiss for making this one much more interesting to the final horn.

Philipp Kurashev pulled them even 46 seconds into the second period — wiring in a one-timer on a power play — and Switzerland nearly took the lead when Bruschweiler was left alone in front only to be robbed by a flashy glove save from Ian Scott at 4:52 of the middle frame.

Canada turned it on from there — that stop was something of a wake-up call or certainly a TSN Turning Point — as the fourth line got on the board with their first even-strength goal of the tournament just over a minute later, at 5:55, when MacKenzie Entwistle scored in similar fashion to Glass, capitalizing on a nice centering pass from Shane Bowers to restore Canada’s lead.

Defenceman Noah Dobson made it 3-1 at 12:08 — jumping into the rush and firing five-hole on Akira Schmid — and it seemed, for a moment, Canada was about to run away with the game.

However, special teams kept it close — from both perspectives, with Canada failing to score on a couple power plays in the third period before Kurashev struck again in a 6-on-4 situation with 1:49 remaining in regulation.

Philipp Kurashev of the Quebec Remparts
(Photo courtesy Quebec Remparts)
Philipp Kurashev, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect now in his third season with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, scored both goals for Switzerland and was named their player of the game.

Switzerland got Schmid to the bench a second time for an extra attacker and pressed for the equalizer in the dying seconds, but Scott and Canada managed to hold on for the nail-biting victory to the delight of 17,102 fans.

Scott, who is expected to back up Michael DiPietro the rest of the way, finished with 15 saves, while Schmid impressed with 29 stops to keep the Swiss within striking distance.

The result was another good one for Canada, even if the effort wasn’t the greatest. The players were relieved to survive that scare — to pass their first stress test — but coach Tim Hunter will have plenty to address at Friday’s practice in preparation for the Czech Republic on Saturday (5 p.m. PT) as their quality of competition continues to ramp up towards a New Year’s Eve clash with Russia. The Czechs had Thursday off after opening with a 2-1 overtime victory against Switzerland on Wednesday.

Russia 4, Denmark 0

In Thursday’s early game, which I didn’t attend, the Russians scored once in each period and added an empty-netter to blank Denmark.

The Danes have yet to score a goal in the tournament through two games — after getting routed 14-0 by Canada in Wednesday’s opener — but put up a better fight against Russia despite playing without injured go-to goaltender Mads Søgaard.

William Rorth, who surrendered three goals on four shots in relief against Canada, rebounded to stop 14 of 17 shots as Denmark managed to outshoot Russia 20-18. Danil Tarasov was perfect between the pipes for Russia in posting the shutout.

Russia’s goals came from Rangers first-rounder Vitali Kravtsov, on a power play to open the scoring, Montreal defence prospect Alexander Romanov, and forwards Pavel Shen (Boston) and Ivan Morozov (Vegas). Kravtsov and Romanov also recorded assists for two-point performances.

Romanov was named player of the game for Russia, which also had a goal disallowed in the first half of the second period.

Russia faces the Czech Republic in Friday’s lone Group A game from Vancouver (5 p.m. PT), while Denmark and Switzerland will battle for their first win on Saturday (1 p.m.).