ST. CATHARINES, Ont. – Alberta Golden Bears defenceman Jason Fram put home a rebound with 6.5 seconds left, clinching a 4-3 victory for the U SPORTS All-Stars over Hockey Canada's World Junior Prospects at the Meridian Centre on Thursday afternoon.
The win secured a sweep of the U SPORTS All-Star Series for the first time since the World Junior squad began facing Canada's best university hockey players in 2015. It was also the first pair of wins for any U SPORTS competition - including conference all-star teams, and squads made up of two to three U SPORTS programs – over Team Canada since the series began in 1988.
"What we saw the last two games is a group of guys that came together very quickly over a four-day period," said U SPORTS head coach Brad Peddle, whose squad featured six returning players and 11 difference universities represented. "One of the things we wanted to really emphasize this year was…to make the experience bigger and better and more high-performance and really treat it like Hockey Canada treats their players. I think that's what you saw from our guys, that they really felt like it was very professional and it showed on the ice."
With clock winding down and overtime looming, Saskatchewan defencemen Jagger Dirk found Alberta forward Cole Sanford streaking towards the net, but the second-year from Coldstream, Alta., couldn't lift the puck over the pad of Dallas Stars prospect Colton Point (Colgate University). Fram pounced on the rebound and made no mistake, giving U SPORTS their second straight win, after claiming Wednesday night's contest 3-0.
"There were too many emotions to count," said Fram, who also picked up an assist in the game. "A lot of excitement going on…To represent U SPORTS and all our universities together, it's a pretty special group of guys in there. We all had a lot of fun and I think we really came here with something to prove to get that message out."
Sanford also had a large impact, scoring two goals to finish with a three-point night, while Alberta teammate Luke Philp, who had the game-winner on Wednesday, picked up a pair of assists. Acadia forward and former Niagara IceDog Stephen Harper – making his return to the rink where he finished his junior career – also notched a goal and an assist.
Ottawa prospect Alex Formenton and St. Louis prospect Robert Thomas – both with the London Knights of the OHL – along with L.A. prospect Kale Clague (Brandon, WHL) had the goals for Canada's World Junior hopefuls.
Both teams fired 27 shots on net, with undrafted netminder Samuel Harvey (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) and Vancouver Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro (Windsor, OHL), combining for 24 saves in the U SPORTS win, while Point and returning Team Canada goaltender Carter Hart (Philadelphia/Everett, WHL) making 23 saves in the loss.
Down 1-0 in the first after a Formenton shorthanded tally, Sanford would tie the game with 2:17 to go in the opening frame, splitting the defence before beating Hart on a breakaway. The momentum continued into the start of second, when Harper finished off a tic-tac-toe play less than two minutes into the middle stanza, giving U SPORTS their first lead of the game.
Clague would tie the game two a half minutes later off a point shot, evening the game at two. A Sanford tap-in on the doorstep nearly eight minutes into the third put U SPORTS ahead, but Team Canada came right back, with Thomas equalizing with under seven minutes to go, setting the stage for Fram's late-game heroics.
"(We picked) guys that we knew would take this very seriously and come in here and play for each other and that's exactly what happened," added Peddle "They played these last two games like they've been playing together a year, or two years...It just speaks to the level of comfort in really putting our product out there - that U SPORTS hockey is elite hockey and it's no secret – it shouldn't be anymore."
Team Canada will face Denmark on Friday, before the final roster is set to face pre-tournament competition against the Czech Republic in London, Ont., and Switzerland in Hamilton, Ont. on Jan. 20 and 22 respectively.
The 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship begins on Dec. 26 in Buffalo, N.Y, while the U SPORTS regular season resumes on Jan. 3.
The 2018 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University Cup is scheduled for Mar. 15-18 at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton, N.B.