On a team full of veterans, four of the youngest players on the ice got their chance in the spotlight.
Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves) and Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit) --- both expected to go in the top five of the 2020 NHL Draft --- contributed in a big way to Team OHL's 4-1 win over Team Russia in Game 3 of the CIBC Canada-Russia series Thursday night in Kitchener.
Perfetti scored the game winner in the first period, while Byfield added a pair of assists.
Jamie Drysdale (Erie Otters) had an assist, and Ryan O'Rourke (Soo Greyhounds) was part of a solid defensive effort.
Each weren't invited to Team Canada's World Junior summer showcase. But it seems the quartet are in it together to make an impression and make the national roster for next month's tournament.
"We're always hanging out at the hotel, we're good friends off the ice," Byfield says, "We always support each other on the ice as well, and all three of them are exceptional players. I think we just drive off each other, and the energy between all of us really is strong."
Team OHL head coach Dale Hunter liked what he saw by the young guns, especially against a "big, heavy team" from Russia.
"They held their own against big, strong guys that are a lot older than them, so that's a credit to them," he said.
Hunter went on to talk about the defense that held up until Russia broke the shutout bid with 42 seconds left in regulation, a goal by Vladislav Mikhailov.
"(Nico) Daws (Guelph Storm) had to make some big saves early," Hunter said, "And then late in the game, we gave up like three or four right in a row. Both goalies played really solid."
Daws stopped 13 shots before Cedrick Andree (Ottawa 67's) took over halfway through the second, something Hunter says was pre-planned. Andree stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced.
The toughest decision for Team Canada brass could very well be who gets the nod as the starter in the Czech Republic. Hunter says the race is wide open.
"We have some good goalies. You saw tonight, out in the (QMJHL) and we'll see them out west (with Team WHL)," he said, "You go from summer camp, and then you go to the season, then you go to this tournament, and then you go to the season again, then you go back to training camp again. So they got five times they can show their stuff."
"The cream always rises, and we'll pick the best kids."
Down the bench was Kitchener Rangers bench boss Jay McKee, serving as an Assistant Coach. He says it wasn't weird at all to share the bench with Hunter, head coach of the rival London Knights.
"He's a great guy off the ice, away from the bench, real easy to talk to," he said, "It was a privilege. He's a guy I looked up to when he was a player. And as a coach, his track record of developing and winning is second to none."
Akil Thomas (Niagara IceDogs), Ty Dellandrea (Flint Firebirds) and Connor McMichael (London Knights) scored the other three Team OHL goals.
Team OHL remains undefeated at The Aud, also winning in 2005 and 2007.
The fourth game of the series goes Monday night in London.
Russia split the first two games of the series against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Monday and Tuesday.
The Russian team will wrap up the series with two games against a Western Hockey League team.
(With files from The Canadian Press)