Giants captain Tyler Benson, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, gave Edmonton fans a glimpse of his abilities with a goal and two assists to help Team WHL to a 4-1 victory over Russia at Rogers Place on Tuesday night.
With the win, the CHL takes a 4-2 series lead in points into Ontario for Game 3 on Thursday in North Bay.
A back and forth first period featured strong goaltending in the early going as 18-year-old Russian netminder Vladislav Sukhachev showed off his athleticism with numerous saves while also getting a little help from his goal post on a shot by Mason Shaw (Medicine Hat Tigers).
Reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips) was equally up to the task at the other end, providing a big save off Alexander Volkov in the opening shift of the game.
The Russians made a goaltending change midway through the first as Sukhachev had an equipment malfunction. Anton Krasotkin, who made 32 saves in Prince George on Monday, came in to stop all three shots he faced in the remainder of the frame. Sukhachev would return to start the second.
Hart kept the game scoreless in the opening five minutes of the second period, stopping Nikita Li on a partial breakaway to set the stage for his WHL squad to climb ahead.
Team WHL took out its first lead of the series as Benson connected with Kale Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings) creeping in off the point. Clague beat Sukhachev over the shoulder on the short side at 9:18.
With Krasotkin back in the game to stay after another Sukhachev equipment mishap, the fresh goaltender made a save at one end as a trio of Russian forwards took the puck back in transition as Alexander Volkov dropped for captain Danila Kvartalnov who beat Hart at 16:28.
With tempers flaring to close out the second, the two clubs wrapped up the opening 40 minutes tied at one as Team WHL led the shooting column 26-23.
After a quiet start to the third, Arizona Coyotes prospect Nick Merkley (Kelowna Rockets) ignited the WHL offence, making a tape-to-tape pass to an oncoming Juulsen who made no mistake in sending a one-timer past the outstretched pad of Krasotkin at the 6:30 mark.
A show of elite speed gave the WHL some breathing room just 1:14 later as Wagner, a Los Angeles Kings prospect, was sprung in alone on a pass from Benson to beat Krasotkin with a quick release over the glove.
With his team in front 3-1, Hart provided a number of saves the rest of the way for a game total of 33 on his part.
Merkley would set up Benson for an empty-netter in the game’s dying moments to finalize the 4-1 victory.
Team WHL takes a series split against Russia, improving to 19-6-1-2 all-time in the CIBC Canada Russia Series.