Team Canada held on for a 12-11 international exhibition win over the Iroquois Nationals at Bell Centre in Montreal on Sunday.
The rivalry was getting hot the last time they met in 2011 in Prague where Team Canada prevailed 13-6 to take world indoor gold, and it was sweat-till-you-drop time Sunday afternoon in Montreal when Team Canada pulled out a 12-11 victory over the Nationals in front of a Bell Centre crowd of 7,500.
"We knew we’d have our hands full,’’ said Team Canada coach Ed Comeau. "Luckily, we pulled one out."
Stephan Leblanc scored four goals, Jordan MacIntosh and Dan Dawson got two each and Ryan Benesch, Cory Vitarelli, Kevin Crowley and Jordan Hall one each. Matt Vinc went the distance for the goaltending win.
Roger Vyse of the Nationals was set up alone in front of Vinc with 15 seconds left. Vinc was off balance after scurrying back into his crease. Seconds earlier, with Canada in possession of the ball, he’d started towards his team’s bench for an extra attacker so the last seconds could be killed off by ragging the ball. But the Nationals got it back and Vyse had a chance to tie it and force overtime.
"It happened so fast," said Vinc. "I was just trying to get back into the net. He tried to go five-hole on me. Luckily, I had my stick there. I slipped back into the net and the ball might have looked like it went in but it didn’t."
For the Nationals, Jeff Shattler, Johnny Powless, Roger Vyse and Vaughn Harris scored two each and Tom Montour, Jeremy Thompson and Randy Staats one each. Mike Thompson was in goal for half for the Nationals and Angus Goodleaf played the second half.
"They’re a good team,’’ said Vinc. "They have great offensive guys and their goalies played well. It’s going to be hard fought every time we play them. It’s all about pride."
It was 7-7 at halftime.
Only two goals were scored in the third quarter and Leblanc produced both. Crowley and Dawson scored early in the fourth to put Canada up 11-7, but the Nationals came storming back. Vyse scored at 5:06 of the fourth and Powless beat Vinc from in close during a two-man advantage at 7:56 to set up a tight finish.
Vyse put in a bouncer at 11:10, Hall replied at 12:55 and Harris made it 12-11 with 59 seconds remaining with Goodleaf out for an extra attacker. Benesch was on Canada’s bench when Vyse got the ball with 15 seconds left. He said he closed his eyes.
"I didn’t want to watch,’’ Benesch said in the victors’ dressing room. ``Vino made an unbelievable stop. The guys is a freak athlete. Only he could make that save. I guess we should be hugging him right now.’’
Hall was on the floor when Vinc saved the game.
"I thought, `Oh, no, then oh, yes,’ pretty quickly,’’ he said. "The way Matt had to backpedal I thought for sure it was going to be a goal but he made a great save."
Canada had a 49-39 shots advantage in winning the Heritage Cup.
Hall scored the winning goal.
"We knew the Iroquois were going to be good,’’ he said. "They always are. It turned into a little bit of a track meet which I think favors their style. But we managed to squeak one out."
Leblanc was one relieved yet satisfied athlete as he pulled on his street clothes.
"You couldn’t have asked for a more exciting game,’’ he said.
His third-quarter goals were a key to the win.
"I was in the right place at the right time,’’ he said. "Dan Dawson through me a nice pass for an empty-side goal and another one was a five-hold squeaker. Sometimes the ball falls your way."
Comeau agreed it was a turning point.
"Our guys really seized the momentum there,'' he said. "We picked the pace up, and Vino made some great saves the rest of the way. We were ahead by enough to hang on and win.''
A youth game was played before the main event and Team Canada Under-17 defeated an Iroquois side 13-8.
Benesch, Vitarelli and defenceman Mike Grimes were among first-time Team Canada players.
"It’s an honor to play for Team Canada and I’m glad I got to be here to play this game with all the other amazing players," said Benesch, who’d never played previously for Canada
Does he want to do it again?
"Definitely," he said. "I’d love to be on this team for the worlds. It’s a couple of years away yet but we’ll see what happens, but it’s definitely something that will be on my mind."
The Onandaga Nation of New York State is host in 2015. Canada went 17-0 in winning the first three world indoor championships.
"I’m grateful to have been a part of this," said Vitarelli. "Any time you can wear your country’s colors, it’s definitely an honor. I hope to be a part of it in the future. I know there are a lot of great players but I’ll hope for the best."
Said Grimes: "It was a great opportunity to wear the country’s colors. It was an exciting one-goal game for the fans. It was a great opportunity for me to play with a couple of buddies with whom I won the Minto Cup with in Shawn Evans and Cory Vitarelli. This game was was just a lot of fun."
The Heritage Cup was presented to Team Canada. It was first contested in 2002 and meant to be an annual reward for a Canada-Iroquois game. Canada retained it in 2004, but it hadn’t been up for grabs again until Sunday.
Story courtesy of Neil Stevens for The Canadian Press.