Subway Super Series: Nail Yakupov’s Final Farewell in Sarnia

By Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood)

Sarnia, ON – Coming into the fourth game of the six-game Subway Super Series, the Canadian Hockey League trailed the series six points to three looking to even up the series. In the history of the Subway Super Series, the Russians have never scored a goal on Sarnia ice in the two previous games being shutout in 2003 and 2006.

Entering the dying minutes of Monday night’s game, it appeared that Team OHL would keep that shutout streak alive until Chicago Blackhawks Maxim Shalunov sent a filthy between-the-legs-no-look pass to fan favourite Nail Yakupov with just 36.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

It was fitting that former Sarnia Sting superstar Yakupov scored the lone Russian goal as the entire evening was an emotional one for Yakupov and Sarnia fans as both said their final goodbyes.

The crowd (4,283) erupted as Yakupov threw his hands into the air in typical “Yakky” dramatic fashion. It was a bittersweet ending for a Sarnia fan-base that graciously thanked Yakupov with a heartfelt ovation as he skated in his post-game “farewell lap” on Sarnia ice for one last time, throwing his game-worn helmet into the crowd and signing a few autographs before disappearing down the tunnel.

Nail Yakupov in his post-game farewell skate tosses helmet into crowd as he says good-bye to Sarnia

Yakupov, drafted second overall in the 2010 CHL Import Draft by Sarnia, tallied 82 goals and 175 points through 113 regular season and playoff games as a member of the Sting, but it was Monday night’s final goal of the game that would be his final official goal on Sarnia ice. His electrifying good-bye goal marks the 51st goal and 111th point Yakupov scored on home ice in Sarnia and it will never be forgotten by the Sting fan-base or Yakupov himself.

Just as he arrived over two years ago in Sarnia, Yakupov left Sarnia Monday night as a total class act and remains one of the franchises’ all-time great players.

Subway Super Series Game 4 Notes:

Team OHL played a very strong defensive game, with great play from their six defensemen and goaltenders Jordan Binnington (Owen Sound Attack; St. Louis Blues) and Jake Patterson (Saginaw Spirit; Detroit Red Wings), as the two split the win, evening up the series with six points apiece. Jordan Binnington was perfect, making eight saves while Jake Patterson stopped eight of the nine shots he faced. The win gives the OHL an impressive record of 19-1 versus the Russians in the 10 year history of the Subway Super Series, with the single loss coming last Thursday in Guelph with a disappointing 2-1 defeat.

2012 Subway Super Series - Sarnia

Subway Super Series Game 4 Opening Faceoff (Brendan Ross/TheHockeyGuys)

The Islanders’ fifth overall selection, Ryan Strome, was brilliant all night, opening the scoring at the 9:50 mark as he pounced on a centering pass from Garrett Meurs (Plymouth Whalers; Colorado Avalanche) beating Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay Lightning) five hole. Senators’ prospect and Kitchener Rangers forward Matt Puempel picked up the secondary assist on Strome’s tally. From that point on, the game became a defensive battle as both teams made several nice checks, limiting the opposition’s scoring chances. Team OHL would continue to struggle on the powerplay as the team went 0-for-6 with the man advantage as they could not solve the dynamic Vasilevski between the pipes. Through both OHL games, the team failed to convert on a powerplay, going goal-less in 10 attempts, a statistic reflective of how well Vasilevski and Russia played defensively.

The highlight of the night may have been when Yakupov was crushed at center ice by bruising winger Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers; Washington Capitals). Luckily for Yakupov, the dynamic winger bounced back up to his feet and carried on with his attack. Wilson put on a clinic throughout the game with his relentless forecheck and bone crushing steam-everything-in-his-way approach showing Hockey Canada that he could be a valuable depth player for the upcoming 2013 World Junior Championship.

The second goal of the game came at the 9:16 mark of the third period as the OHL powerplay expired, when Sudbury Wolves defenseman, Frankie Corrado (Vancouver Canucks) picked up a large rebound on the doorstep and fired it past Vasilevski to make it 2-0.  Assists on the play went to Niagara Ice Dog teammates Ryan Strome (New York Islanders) and Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins). Corrado was arguably Ontario’s best defenseman, competing confidently the entire game, and showing great potential as a two-way pro defenseman. If there was a single OHL defenseman who improved his chances at earning a WJC spot, it was Corrado.

As Russia continued their attack, Team OHL defensemen were extremely effective at limiting the offensive scoring chances showing that many of these rearguards will receive special consideration for the upcoming World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. Specifically, OHL captain Scott Harrington (London Knights; Pittsburgh Penguins), Stuart Percy (Mississauga Steelheads; Toronto Maple Leafs), and Adam Pelech (Erie Otters; New York Islanders) played mistake-free hockey. The game plan was executed well against a Russian roster that can so often quickly cripple the opposition on careless turnovers with their opportunistic scoring ability.

Up front, Team OHL had strong showings from several top prospects including Barrie Colts’ leading scorer Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), Ryan Stome (Niagara Ice Dogs; New York Islanders), Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers; Washington Capitals) and Kerby Rychel (Windsor Spitfires; 2013). Seth Griffith (London Knights; Boston Bruins), Daniel Catenacci (Owen Sound Attack; Buffalo Sabres), Max Domi (London Knights; 2013), Garrett Meurs (Plymouth Whalers; Colorado Avalanche) and Matt Puempel (Kitchener Rangers; Ottawa Senators) showed that their smaller size was not much of an issue as each of them showed flashes of their professional potential.

Scheifele was a force in the faceoff dot winning virtually every matchup he faced, and was probably the most complete player on the ice, showing why he is considered NHL-ready. Strome factored in on both OHL goals (1 goal, 1 assist, plus-2) and earned Player of the Game honours for Team OHL, as he was buzzing the entire game, using his speed and slick hands to control the play. Wilson, as previously mentioned, was hitting every player in his way, but also showed great defensive awareness as he back-checked hard to break up several key scoring chances for the Russians. Rychel had a strong game, as he proved to be one of the OHL’s more physical forwards, executing several hard body checks.

London Knights teammates Griffith and Domi were definitely the two smallest players on the ice, but both forwards showed good poise and playmaking abilities throughout the night. Their size remains a concern, but their hockey sense and execution are at elite levels, making them constant offensive threats. Catenacci was a player that stood out as one of OHL’s most consistent players on both sides of the puck. He showed to be a great defensive-minded forward, and his speed was especially useful on that attack.

Meurs and Puempel flagged Strome as wingers, and the line proved to be quite successful as Meurs’ hard skating and tenacious puck pursuit complemented Puempel’s and Strome’s skill games nicely. Sudbury Wolves forward Josh Leivo (Toronto Maple Leafs) was one of team OHL’s bigger forwards but it was disappointing to see him lose puck battles in the corners to smaller Russian defenders.

Minnesota Wild draftee and the OHL’s leading goal scorer Tyler Graovac (Ottawa 67’s) was quite visible as he attacked smartly, taking good routes, but failed to find the score sheet in Sarnia. Barrie Colts forward Anthony Camara (Boston Bruins) had several scoring chances but failed to convert. On one specific play, Seth Griffith made a slick pass to Camara on the doorstep but his fellow Bruin draft pick fanned on the shot attempt. Camara’s skating remains a work in progress, but his well-rounded game could see him receive a long look for Canada’s 2013 JC squad.

Sarnia Sting defenseman Alex Basso, who was the lone undrafted skater on Team OHL (exluding 2013 NHL draft eligible skaters Kerby Rychel and Max Domi). The mobile puck-moving defenseman played a solid two-way game last night versus some elite Russian talents. Basso, a shifty and dynamic skater, can usually be seen attempting high risk passes and dangles, but in last night’s game, he was able to simplify, making him a better all-around blue-liner.

Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski earned Player of the Game honours for the second time in this series, stopping 27 of 29 Team OHL shots. Vasilevski continues to be a dominant goaltender on the international stage, and on Monday night he played especially well with his future boss in Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager, watching intently from the stands.

The Russian squad had several other standout performances despite struggling to solve the brilliant tandem of Binnington and Patterson.  Nikita Nesterov (Tampa Bay Lightning) is a defenseman known for his offensive skill-set  but he was especially good on the defensive side of the puck, winning battles against much larger forwards.

The burly 6’3” 220-pound Yaroslov Kosov (Florida Panthers) had a good showing, displaying quick feet, opposing size and good puck control. His shift-to-shift consistency was erratic, but Kosov owns great pro potential that the Florida Panthers should be excited about with this 2011 5th round selection.

Special attention was directed at the play of Alexander Khokhlachev (Boston Bruins) after the former Windsor Spitfire left the OHL to make his KHL debut this season. In game four of the Subway Super Series, Khokhlachev’s lack of top speed was exposed in a game that was lightning quick. “Koko” is extremely creative, but without an improvement in speed and strength (pushed around too easily), he will have an uphill battle to crack the Bruins’ top six in the foreseeable future.

Looking toward the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Russians featured two notable prospects, Valeri Nichushkin and Bogdan Yakimov. Nichushkin was one of Russia’s top forward performers in Sarnia on Tuesday night. With great size and puck control, Nichushkin was an aggressive attacker, as he drove the net with authority, and dished off passes to open teammates with great success. On the other hand, Yakimov was underwhelming in Tuesday evening’s game. The massive winger failed to accomplish much on either side of the puck. Yakimov had several key turnovers that resulted in him failing to move the puck quick enough, and he struggled to pick up enough speed to beat the OHL defenders on the attack. Yakimov has a tantalizing package of size and rare skill, and will continue to be discussed as a potential first round talent, but his showing in Sarnia could be summed up as “sub-standard”.

The 2012 Subway Super Series is tied 2-2 with 6 points aside, and the outcome of this series will be determined when the remaining two games shift to the Western Hockey League locations. Vancouver, BC is the site for Game 5 and is scheduled to take place Wednesday, November 14 at 10:00pm ET. The final game will be played in Victoria on Thursday night. Games will be televised on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, and NHL Network in the United States.

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