HALIFAX — It will be a battle of 1-0 teams Sunday night when the Halifax Mooseheads and Guelph Storm face off at the Memorial Cup.
The Storm got a first period hat trick from Alexey Toropchenko and rode that Russian wave to a 5-2 victory over the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies Saturday in the first game of the tourney for both teams.
Rouyn-Noranda, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion, was the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League at the end of the regular season.
"Every time I thought we were in a little bit of trouble we found a way to get a goal. It was a good win," said Storm coach George Burnett.
The victory not only made a statement, it also took a modicum of pressure off Guelph, as they are now guaranteed at the very least a spot in a tie-breaker if they drop their other round robin matches.
"It's a good first step," said the Storm's Nick Suzuki. "It's huge for confidence ... they're one of the top teams in the CHL for a reason."
"It helps us relax a bit but we can't be too relaxed .... three wins is the goal and hopefully four," Suzuki said, referring to what it takes to win the tournament.
It didn't start particularly well for the Storm.
Vincent Marleau's off-wing wrister beat Anthony Popovich from well out just two minutes into the game.
But then the Toropchenko show took over, with the St. Louis Blues draft pick scoring three times in a span of 7:23, kicking it off with a shorthanded goal.
"It doesn't matter who scores first, we just always play hard," said Toropchenko, with a little help on some interpretation of questions from teammate Fedor Gordeev. "Especially me. I'm just trying to do my best every shift."
Toropchenko, who had 17 goals in 62 regular season games, now has 17 goals in 25 post-season games.
Burnett said Toropchenko has really elevated his game.
"Once he started scoring a bit his confidence went through the roof," Burnett said.
"It's exciting to see him rewarded for all the hard work he puts in."
Goals by MacKenzie Entwistle and Nick Suzuki sandwiched one by Rouyn-Noranda's Jakub Lauko in the second period.
The Huskies had a bit of a push back in that second period, but Popovich did his part to apologize for the early softie, making a number of brilliant saves, including a troika in the second period in a span of five seconds.
"That was huge," Suzuki said of his goaltender's big saves. "He's always been there when we've needed him most."
Huskies coach Mario Pouliot said turnovers cost his team any chance of winning.
"The way we managed the puck cost us the game, it's as simple as that," Pouliot said. "We gave them four goals. It's impossible to win games when we give the puck like we gave it to them."
"I think we lost way too many battles. We just weren't ourselves today," added the Huskies' Vincent Marleau.
"We scored the first goal, which is what we wanted to do coming into the game, and then they were opportunistic and scored a few quick ones and we just wern't able to recover after that," Marleau said.
Guelph is right back at it Sunday night, taking on the Halifax Mooseheads (1-0) in a 8 p.m. start.