EDMONTON — Mason McTavish and Kent Johnson showed signs of becoming Canada's go-to combination at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
But, only a few hundred fans were in the stands at Rogers Place to see the magic start to happen between the two NHL first-round draft picks.
Canada scored four times in the first period en route to a 6-4 win in a pre-WJC exhibition game Thursday. McTavish, a pick of the Anaheim Ducks, scored twice and added an assist to pace the Canadians. Johnson, his linemate and a selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets, had a goal and an assist.
"I think they moved the puck really well," said Canada's coach Dave Cameron. "Chemistry is a hard thing to define, but for them to develop it so quickly, it's exciting."
"We've got some good chemistry going," McTavish said of his bond with Johnson. "He always puts it in the wheelhouse. It's a treat to play with him."
Summit Series this was not, as this game was not as close as the score might indicate.
Matvei Michkov scored twice for the Russians, and was named his team's player of the game.
Michkov just turned 17 and is the player on the Russian team who has the scouts salivating.
"His shot stands out," Canadian forward Cole Perfetti said of the emerging Russian star. "He can score. It's the first time I've seen him play. You can't really give him many opportunities to get his shot off."
Thursday's pre-tournament game with Russia drew a gathering in the hundreds to Rogers Place. From the media area in the eighth level of the building, reporters were able to hear players calling to each other on the ice.
A surge in COVID-19 cases forced tournament organizers to rejig the pre-WJC schedule. Each participating team had its exhibition schedule reduced to one game each — with all face-offs set for Dec. 23. Then, on Tuesday, the province of Alberta restricted seating capacity to 50 per cent for all major sporting events, and limited the consumption of food and drink in major arenas.
It was a perfect storm of roadblocks that led to an almost-empty house.
Those few people in attendance saw McTavish begin the first-period flurry at 6:25 with a power-play marker, slamming home a rebound from a Johnson shot past Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov.
Less than a minute later, it was 2-0; Ridly Greig’s shot went in and out of the net so quickly, video review was needed to confirm the goal.
The Canadian surge continued. A Russian giveaway led to a Canadian two-on-one, with McTavish setting up Johnson at 12:25. Lukas Cormier finished the first-period goal-fest with a power-play marker.
The Russians came to life in the second period, albeit too little, too late — and got momentum from four Canadian penalties. The visitors got on the board at 2:27 of the second period. An intended pass from Semyon Demidov ricocheted in off the skate of Canadian defenceman Donovan Sebrango. In soccer, that would be credited as an own goal, a nod to Sebrango's famous soccer father, Eddie Sebrango, who played for both the former Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Matvei Michkov's power-play goal at the 11:00 mark reduced the Russian deficit to two.
"A four-goal lead in the first-period is never a bad thing," McTavish said when asked if Canada took the foot off the gas to start the second. "We just got into some penalty trouble."
McTavish put a halt to the comeback attempt late in the second, as he danced around Askarov to score his second of the game. But the Russians made it 5-3 before the horn as Alexander Pashin beat netminder Sebastian Cossa from a bad angle.
Conor Bedard re-extended the Canadian lead to three in the third, burying a pass from Cole Perfetti.
Michkov made it 6-4 right before the final horn, making the score more respectable than deserved for the Russians.
Dylan Garand stopped 14 of 15 shots for Canada. Cossa, who plays for the hometown Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, came in halfway through the game and stopped just eight of 11. Askarov stopped 28 of 29 shots before being replaced by Yegor Guskov, who turned aside eight of nine.
Cameron said he has not decided who is Canada's No. 1 netminder.
"I don't really have a plan yet, it's a work in progress."
Russian coach Sergei Zubov did not select any North American-based players for his team, including Edmonton Oilers draft pick Matvey Petrov, currently third in OHL scoring race, with 49 points in 29 games.
In other pre-tournament action Thursday, the defending gold medalists from the United States lost 4-3 in overtime to Finland, the Slovaks beat the Germans 4-0, and Sweden defeated Austria 7-0. The scheduled game between the Czechs and Swiss in Red Deer was cancelled because of COVID protocols.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press