A sold out crowd cheered Canada East to a 4-2 win over Team Russia in an exhibition game at the Digby Area Arena, part of the World Junior A Challenge being staged in Yarmouth.
Fans with Canada jerseys, painted maple leaf faces, and even fans in Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens jerseys were lined up across the parking lot at 5 p.m., two hours before the puck dropped Saturday.
Organizers estimate 1,200 people crowded into the bleachers to see the first ever Canada-Russia game at the Digby arena.
Canada East wasn’t long giving the crowd something to cheer about.
Blaine Bryon opened the scoring only a minute and half into the game and the Canadians just kept scoring.
Patrick McCarron scored on the power play five minutes later and Dalen Hedges made it 3-0 after another six minutes.
Russia pressed through the end of the first with a series of scoring chances but Canada’s goalie Charlie Finn stood up big between the pipes.
Ruslan Trubkin put Russia on the scoreboard with the only goal of the second period, just past the 12-minute mark.
Vladislav Gavrikov’s goal in the first minute of the third brought Russia to within one and gave the Digby crowd something to worry about for the first time in the game.
The third period was a chippy one for an exhibition game with 14 minutes of penalties. The Canadians took back the momentum and outshot the Russians 16-6 in the final period.
As the Canadians were killing their second penalty in a row and their third of the period, captain Michael Neville took a hard hit to the left of centre ice, flipped over the Russian’s back and landed upside down on the ice.
“I thought it was bit of a dirty play,” said Neville after the game. “But you just get up, and get your head back in the game. A shake of the head and you’re good to go.”
Neville barely had time to shake his head as a Russian player came up the boards at him bringing the puck out of the Russian zone.
Neville pounced and with a quick poke check he was in alone on the Russian goalie.
“He was a bit lackadaisical with the puck,” says Neville. “I picked his pocket, found an opening short side and put the puck in there.”
The 19-year-old from Woodbridge, Ont., played for Canada East in last year’s World Junior A Hockey Challenge but he says it’s special every time.
“You never know when you’re going to wear that logo again so you just go out and give it everything you’ve got,” he says.
He says the energy in the Digby arena was a big help to the Canadian squad.
“We came in here three hours before the game and saw that line up and we knew it was going to be a sold out game,” said Neville. “And the crowd didn’t disappoint. The energy in here was unbelievable.”
Organizer Danny Harvieux says everything went more or less to plan.
“I’m really happy with everything,” he said. “The volunteers were all fantastic. I’m just looking forward to round two now.”
Harvieux figures they are three-quarters sold out for the Prospects game this Saturday.
He says there will be a lot more work for everyone next weekend as Digby hosts the Prospects from Friday noon until 3 a.m. Monday morning.
“We’ve got to do their laundry and feed them a bunch of times,” says Harvieux. “Not to mention put on the game.”
Ticket holders will also be able to watch both morning practices and in the afternoon the rink will be open for a free skate and autograph session.
The Prospect game starts at 7 p.m.
Game sheet on Hockey Canada website