Ethan Leyh and Massimo Rizzo were simply too much for Team Saskatchewan to handle.
The pair of BC forwards each stacked up four-point efforts – Leyh with two goals and two assists, Rizzo with a goal and three assists – to lead Team BC to a 5-3 victory over Team Saskatchewan in afternoon action at the 2016 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup from the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary on Thursday.
“It’s always awesome getting goals, but the real result we want is a ‘W,’” Leyh said Thursday night. “We got that tonight.
“We got down early and showed some great resilience. Guys really worked hard today. We won all the battles and it was a great team effort.”
A 3-3 game through 40 minutes was taken over by a deeper, healthier BC squad in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Rizzo, BC’s captain, sprung Joshua Williams on a partial break and the Medicine Hat Tigers prospect made no mistake, beating Saskatchewan netminder Matthew Pesenti to give BC a 4-3 lead it never relinquished.
“They went for a line change and [Williams] blew the zone, there was a turnover in our zone,” Rizzo said, recounting the lead up to Williams’ winner. “I got it up to him and he was able to go down there and score.
“Our line had a great game. We were using each other a lot, we had great chemistry and we found a way to get it in the net.”
Leyh, an eighth round pick of the Spokane Chiefs, tallied his second goal of the game on the power play in the late minutes of the third, securing a 5-3 decision and undefeated start through two games for BC.
For Saskatchewan, Thursday’s outcome served as yet another difficult pill to swallow after the prairie boys lead 2-0 and 3-2 on separate occasions.
“We’ve got to stay positive, is one thing,” said Logan Barlage, captain of Team Saskatchewan, Thursday night. “We’re doing a good job of that. Staying with that is important. Everybody knows we have a good chance of winning this tournament, we’ve got to take it into tomorrow and see what we can do there.”
Harrison Blaisdell opened the scoring in the first period, burying a power-play opportunity from the low slot to give Saskatchewan a 1-0 lead.
Barlage extended the Saskatchewan advantage with another power-play goal, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and hammering it past a helpless Roman Basran to give his team a 2-0 lead. Blaisdell earned an assist on the play, getting in on both early Saskatchewan markers.
BC turned the tide after Leyh put a rebound shortside past Pesenti for a power-play goal that made it 2-1 Saskatchewan.
After Leyh got BC on the board, only 1:05 elapsed before Logan Doust slammed home a loose puck at the side of the Saskatchewan cage, tying the game 2-2 and swinging momentum in the favour of BC.
Connor Zary put Saskatchewan back in front only 45 seconds into the middle period. Moments after another power-play opportunity expired, Zary jumped and put the puck past Basran from the slot to give Saskatchewan a 3-2 edge.
Rizzo, a first round pick of the Kamloops Blazers, pulled things even late in the second period, hammering a one-time blast from the high slot that eluded Pesenti. The power-play goal made it 3-3 through 40 minutes of play.
“He really gets guys ready before the games,” Leyh said of Rizzo. “He leads on and off the ice. He’s an awesome captain we have here.”
Basran made 21 saves to collect the win between the pipes for BC.
Sitting 2-0-0, Team BC will take on Team Alberta Friday night to close out the round-robin portion of the tournament.
“We know Alberta is a good team,” Rizzo said. “We’ve just got to play our game, try our best and we should be successful.”
As for Team Saskatchewan, while they sit without a win, there’s no arguing the green and gold have been right there with the competition through two tough opening games.
“Nobody wants to give up,” Barlage said. “We won’t give up. We worked hard [Wednesday] and had a really good game. We have some banged up bodies and a couple guys are sick. We’ve just got to play through it and we’ve done a good job of that so far.
“We’ve just got to keep playing like we’re playing and things will go our way, bounces will go our way. It will be a good one tomorrow.”
Saskatchewan will face Manitoba on Friday afternoon to close out round-robin play.
The Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup has been sponsored since 2009 by the WHL and has been made possible through financial support provided by the WHL, Hockey Manitoba, BC Hockey, Hockey Alberta, Saskatchewan Hockey Association and Hockey Canada.
This marks the sixth edition of the event. The first Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup was held in Blackfalds, Alta., in 2009 and featured four of the top eight players selected at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In 2011, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatchewan Hockey Association hosted the event at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. In 2012, the tournament returned to Alberta, hosted in Calgary at Father David Bauer Arena – home of the WHL – where it remained for two years. In 2015, the tournament was once again hosted in Calgary, but shifted to the Markin MacPhail Centre.
Team Alberta is a four-time champion of the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup, capturing the title in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Team BC won the event in 2012, while Team Manitoba and Team Saskatchewan are still seeking the crown.