Future of Canada-Russia rivalry includes Yakupov, Rielly
(Nail Yakupov, 2012 first-overall draft pick, dons his Oilers sweater)
Forty years ago Sunday, the Montreal Forum played host to the opening matchup of the historic eight-game Summit Series between Canada and the former Soviet Union. The collective jaws of the host nation dropped in gaping horror, stunned by a 7-3 defeat. In the four decades that have since elapsed, the two countries have collided in some of the most epic moments during the battle for international hockey supremacy.
Paul Henderson sealed the victory for the Canadians in Game 8, immortalizing his name with just 34 seconds remaining on the clock at Moscow’s Luzhniki Ice Palace.
Mario Lemieux equaled the task fifteen years later, finishing a 2-on-1 from Wayne Gretzky to clinch the 1987 Canada Cup.
The World Junior Hockey Championship has made heroes out of Canadian teenagers John Slaney and Jordan Eberle and their Russian counterparts Artem Chubarov and Yuri Trubachev.
Quebec City played host to the 2008 World Championship, only to have Ilya Kovalchuk crash the party with an overtime winner in the gold medal game. The power-play marker came with Rick Nash serving a minor penalty for shooting the puck over the glass.
Nash would exact his revenge less than two years later as he was part of a determined, adrenalized Canadian Olympic team that crushed Russia in the quarter-finals on route to the 2010 gold medal in Vancouver.
Russia broke Canada’s hearts again at the following year’s junior tournament with a furious rally from a 3-0 deficit in the championship game, silencing the partisan crowd who made the border crossing into Buffalo hoping for a victory.
Two of the next generation of players that will carry this rivalry are 2012 first-overall draft pick Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers and fifth-overall selection Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both players participated in the Canada-Russia Challenge series that was held in August between the countries’ respective junior teams.
Despite being a generation removed from the Summit Series, the players have absorbed its significance. “Our team was quite educated on that topic,” said Rielly. “It was pretty cool to be a part of it. It was a huge honour and I think we all learned quite a bit about it. It was cool to experience that.”
Rielly finished the tournament with four points in as many games, and showed no ill effects from a torn ACL that limited him to just twenty-three regular season and playoff games with Moose Jaw last year. “I think the whole experience was a highlight,” said Reilly. “Any chance you get to play for Team Canada is pretty special, and you just want to take advantage of it. It was a huge honour.”
Yakupov admitted to not being full shape for the Challenge Series, an ironic twist when considering that his countrymen nearly stole the Summit Series forty years earlier with superior conditioning. “They were good games, and there were tough games,” said Yakupov. “But it was in the summer, and I wasn’t 100%. Some guys weren’t ready. I wasn’t ready. So for now I’m just going to start working, and we’ll see what happens.”
In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series, many of the players from the classic showdown were on hand. Ken Dryden, Don Awrey, Pat Stapleton, Vladislav Tretiak, Alexander Yakushev were all in attendance.
“There were great players that were with us in Halifax,” said Yakuopov. “ I’ve watched a couple of those (Summit Series) games on TV. It was good.”
Canada prevailed with an overtime goal in the final game from New York Islanders’ prospect Ryan Strome.
With skilled players like Strome, Yakupov and Rielly paving the future, the strength in the Canada-Russia rivalry is cemented for years to come.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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