An exhibition game between the Kazakhstan National U20 hockey team and the Junior A Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Wednesday, Dec. 19 ended 5-2 in favour of Kazakhstan.
The game featured plenty of action at both ends of the rink. Kazakhstan forward Maxim Musorov opened scoring at 13:55 in the first period, catching a rebound and firing it past Bulldogs goaltender Cole Demers. Their second goal came four minutes into the second period, scored by team captain Sayan Daniyar.
The Bulldogs battled back in the second, with forward Dawson Tritt taking a pass across the crease from Ethan Jones and firing it into a nearly-open net. But Kazakhstan responded with two more goals—a powerplay number by Valeriy Orekhov followed by Musorov’s second of the night.
The third period started with Kazakhstan padding the lead, as Artur Gatiyatov added a fifth goal less than 30 seconds into the period. But Bulldogs forward Keaton Mastrodonato netted one of his own, assisted by Aaron Bohlinger and Ryan Pouliot at the 11:32 mark to bring the score to 5-2.
Fans got a few extra minutes of hockey after the final horn, as Kazakhstan took an opportunity to practice their three-on-three overtime technique and a shootout against the Alberni Valley team. No one scored in overtime, but the shootout ended 2-1 in favour of the Bulldogs.
“It was a little treat for the fans here,” explained Bulldogs head coach Matt Hughes after the game.
Hughes was impressed by the Kazakhstan team, describing them as a “talented, hard-working group.” He particularly complimented their goaltending and coaching.
Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society past-president Ron Paulson was similarly impressed.
“The Kazakhstan hockey players are conducting themselves as first class citizens,” he said after the game.
The national team arrived in Port Alberni on Tuesday, welcomed by a VIP event in the evening. They will be using Port Alberni’s multiplex for their practice sessions before they head to Victoria for the official start of the World Junior Championship.
The pre-tournament games in Port Alberni are “a chance for pomp and pageantry” that Port Alberni doesn’t often get, Paulson said. Wednesday’s game opened with a ceremonial puck drop with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns and gift exchange while skaters flew the Kazakhstan and Canada flags and the multiplex played the anthems of both countries. Friday’s game between Switzerland and Kazakhstan will also feature an opening ceremony.
“It’s a totally different experience for anyone who chooses to come to the games,” said Paulson.
Paulson gave credit to the Bulldogs for battling against a national team. “We got to see the skill level of a country’s national team, and we saw some skill from the Bulldogs,” he said.
For the Bulldogs, it was a bit of no-stakes hockey before their Christmas break.
“We try and focus on what we want to do,” said Hughes. “At the end of the day, it’s just another hockey game and we want to do a good job.”
The team will be back in town on Dec. 28 for their next practice, followed by a Dec. 30 home tilt against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. They will also host Nanaimo Clippers on Dec. 31 at 2 p.m.—a game that was rescheduled from Dec. 28 due to the World Junior exhibition games.
“Guys get to go enjoy the break, get away from the game for a bit,” said Hughes. “Then we’ll try to put some wins together.”