UFA, Russia — Skating over to Team Canada’s bench to grab some water during the television timeouts, goaltender Malcolm Subban stopped in front of backup Jordan Binnington. The two shared a few words before Subban skated back to his crease and back to work.
“I just told him to keep doing what he was doing,” said Binnington.
What he was doing was stonewalling Team USA, making 36 saves en route to a 2-1 victory over the Americans as Canada remained undefeated at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship.
“No one deserves it more than him,” said forward Ryan Strome, who scored the game-winner, of Subban. “He proved a lot of people wrong. We knew he had it in him and I think he quieted a lot of people.”
Entering the tournament there had been questions about Subban’s ability to carry Team Canada against tough competition. In the opening games of the tournament against Germany and Slovakia, the Boston Bruins’ first-round draft pick last June appeared to be fighting the puck, despite having head coach Steve Spott’s full confidence. Subban came out strong against the Americans making a number of key stops, particularly in the second period when Canadian defenceman Griffin Reinhart was assessed a four-minute penalty for high-sticking. He made eight saves while Canada killed off the penalty.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Spott. “I think goaltending in our country has been on the forefront under the radar the last couple of years. I think it’s a big moment for Malcolm, I think it’s a big moment for our hockey club.”
Subban admitted that he was more motivated to face the Americans than some of the other, earlier competition. He did his post-game interview wearing the Team Canada cape, given to the most valuable player of the game.
“I felt this was a game that was easier to get up for than other games,” said Subban. “I just felt I had to play really well today and I came in really confident.
“It’s just one game though, and we have another game (Monday) and that’s where my focus is right now.”
Spott has been a big believer in Subban since having the 19-year-old play during the summer’s Canada-Russia challenge in Yaroslavl, Russia.
“He just seemed to have that swagger that he had this summer,” said the coach of Subban. “That’s really, really important.”
UP NEXT FOR CANADA: NEW YEAR’S EVE SHOWDOWN WITH RUSSIA
It’s important because Canada will face its toughest opponent and arguably biggest rival on Monday when it goes up against host Russia. It’ll be the first time in the tournament that Canada will have a full lineup as forwards Boone Jenner (three games) and JC Lipon (one game) return from suspensions.
Both Canada and Russia are undefeated in Pool B with identical 3-0-0 records, meaning the winner will automatically advance to the semifinal while the loser will have to play a quarterfinal game.
“The building is going to be packed so I’m looking forward to that for sure,” said Subban.
The Russians have yet to name a starter for the game against Canada, but during the morning media availability goaltending coach Vladimir Myshkin suggested that Andrei Makarov – who plays for the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades – might get the call. Head coach Mikhail Varnakov, however, likes to keep the media guessing.
“Makarov is more like a goalie that plays against North American teams because he plays in the WHL, than (Alexei) Vasilevski ,” said Myshkin through a translator. “Makarov played against the USA and Vasilevski played against Germany and the Slovaks.”
Myshkin, who won an Olympic gold medal with Russia in 1984 as a netminder, is no stranger to international play. He is probably most well-known for being the goaltender who replaced Vladislav Tretiak during the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” game against the U.S. He’s also the only Russian goaltender from that era to win a Canada Cup, so he knows the rivalry between the two nations better than most.
“It’s like a war,” said Myshkin.
Adding to the Canada-Russia drama is the fact the game will be played on New Year’s Eve, which is one of the biggest celebrations in the country.
“Despite the time of year, despite whenever it is, whenever Canada plays Russia it’s always a battle, it’s always great hockey,” said Myshkin. “But even more so, it’s the world (junior) championship on New Year’s Eve in Russia – it’s going to be a hit.”
Even for Spott, the idea of being part of the Canada versus Russia lore on the international stage is very special.
“These are the stories that you’ll tell your children about one day, and your grandchildren about one day,” said Spott, who is father to Tyler, 12, and Emma, 10. “You have an opportunity to coach Team Canada in Russia. That’s extremely exciting for all of us – players and staff included.”
Spott said he’s prepared his team to face the hostile crowd, many of whom cheered for the U.S. when they scored their only goal against Canada on Sunday. They were also heard chanting “shibu” – the Russian word for puck – when the U.S. had the puck late in the game. That’s the traditional goal-call when Russian fans want to see the puck in the opposition’s net.
“We understand there’s going to be a lot of whistling here (Monday) night,” said Spott of the boisterous Russian crowd. “We’re prepared for that. I don’t think there are going to be too many pre-game speeches by us as a staff.
“I think once they hit the warm-up they’re going to know they’re in for a game.”