NELSON - Team Canada East coach Jerome Dupont said prior to the start of the World Junior A Challenge Hockey Tournament anything less than a gold medal would be a disappointment.
Team Canada East took the first step in that direction, albeit a small one, getting past the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League All Stars for 4-1 Thursday night in World Junior A Challenge exhibition play at the Nelson and District Community Complex Arena.
The game was the first of two exhibition encounters for the Canada East as Dupont looks to get his troops ready for the opening game of the tournament Monday in Trail against Belarus.
“It was more or less meeting expectations for us,” Dupont said following the closer-than-what-most-expected-contest.
“We were by no means a well-oiled machine. But there were some bright spots and I thought certain players played very well.”
Despite outshooting the KIJHK All Stars 16-1 in the first period, all Canada East could muster was a power play goal by Stouffville Spirit forward James McIntosh to take a 1-0 lead after the first period.
“I knew I was going to get a lot of shots in beginning of the game,” said all Star netminder Wade Waters, who toils for the Creston Thunder Cats.
“They’re a team of Junior A All Stars from all over Eastern Canada. But I know our team was good and we could play solid defensive hockey to stay with them.”
The KIJHL All Stars started to gain some momentum in the second frame, and were unfortunate not to score at least one goal.
In the third Canada East took a 2-0 lead when Adam Brace of the Pembroke Lumber Kings snapped a quick shot past Andrew Walsh in the KIJHL nets.
Just over a minute later KIJHL All Stars cut the margin to 2-1 as Nelson Leafs defenceman Torin Brusven poked a loose puck past Canada East goalie Kori Coelho.
“As the game progressed we found out who we were playing with and became more comfortable,” said Nelson Leaf captain Jeremy Van Troyen, who also captained Team KIJHL.
“It’s never easy jumping in with new guys. So once we got to know each other it helped out a lot.”
But the comeback was short lived as perhaps one of the better players on the ice for Canada East, Corey Trivino of the Stouffville Spirit snapped home a quick shot from the slot to restore the two-goal lead.
Brace, with his second of the game, concluded the scoring by shooting a long shot into the empty net as KJJHL pressed to tie the game.
“I think they were surprised at actually how well we came out and competed with them all game,” said Van Troyen, impressed with the way the KIJHL frustrated Canada East for most of the contest despite being outshot 40-22.
While the KIJHL All Stars return to their respective teams to resume league action, Dupont will attempt to mould Canada East into a gold-medal contender.
“We’ve got to improve and there are certain areas we’ve got to work on (Friday and Saturday) to get better,” said Dupont.
Canada East concludes the exhibition series Saturday in Trail against Russia.