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Kazakhstan supporter. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News.

In 1978 the British funk band Hot Chocolate sang, everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth. Friday, at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, Kazakhstan won the hearts of the mostly Victoria-based crowd. The arena chants by the 6,185 in attendance drowned out the U-S-A chants, throughout the game. However, Team USA blistered the breakaway republic with 66 shots and defeated them 8-2.

The similar sports phraseeveryone loves a winner, baby”, may not apply, here.

Hot off of their 2-1 win over Slovakia on Boxing Day, the Americans were looking at a practice-game against a team that looked very much like a really hard-working and talented Junior-B all-star team.

Kazakhstan lost Thursday by the score of 5-0 to Finland and came into Friday’s game seeking a better outcome, a very tall order. Goaltender Demid Yeremeyev earned several standing ovations from the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre fans. After the Finland game, the bemused Yeremeyev was sought after by the media after facing 56 shots. Shades of “Eddie the Eagle”, the ski jumper from England who captured the hearts of Calgarians during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Quinn Hughes skates for Team USA on defence, Vancouver Canucks hot prospect. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/ Victoria Sports News

The USA-Kazakhstan game was an opportunity for west coast Vancouver Canuck fans to get a look at their highly touted prospect Quinn Hughes – the fast-skating and smooth-passing defender who is playing for the University of Michigan in the NCAA – a Big-10 Conference team. He has 20 points in 17 games so far this season. He put up 29 points in 37 games all of last season.

There is rumour that he will be suiting up for the Canucks this season. Asked about the possibility he said, “They are letting me focus on this tournament and playing for Michigan in the second half, so that is what I am focussing on now. I don’t think we are worried about that at the moment.”

His younger brother Jack is also on Team USA and is at least as skilled as a centre; however, he did not play Friday.

“We are taking it day-to-day with him, we will see tomorrow, but I think he is ready to go.”

Asked about playing with his brother he said, “It’s really fun. Like I have been telling everyone, it is not only fun because he is my brother, but he is also a highly skilled player. So I am very happy to be playing with him for two reasons,” said Hughes.

The Canucks need a highly skilled defender to complement the big-playing Christopher Tanev, Alexander Edler and Erik Gudbranson. Hughes may be entertaining the discussion before the Canucks season is over.

At 5’10” and 170-pounds, Hughes is the prototypical new defenceman that the National Hockey League seems to be embracing. Fast, skilled and agile.

As expected the US opened the scoring with a goal at 1:37 of the first period, however, much to the partisan crowd’s delight, the Kazakhstan team scored 18 seconds later on the breakaway. Kazakhstan defender Valeri Orekhov sent a two-line pass to Andrei Buyalski who broke in from the American’s blue line and went forehand-backhand on goaltender Cayden Primeau.

Oliver Walhstrom had opened the scoring. Ryan Poehling earned the only assist on the play.

Tyler Madden scores at 12:11 of the second period. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

Joel Farabee, a Philadelphia Flyer’s 2018 first-round pick – 14th overall – and still unsigned forward scored a natural hat-trick popping markers at 5:13, 8:53 and 12:05 of the opening frame.

Yeremeyev replaced starter Vladislav Nurek at 8:10 of the first. At 12:11 of the second, Nurek was back in net.

After two periods the shots were 47-9 and the score 7-1 for the US.

Alexander Chmelevski, Poehling and Tyler Madden added goals for Team USA during the second period.

Kazakhstan scored a second goal mid-way through the third. At 9:59 Valeri Orekhov found Dmitri Miteknov all alone in front of the net. With Primeau facing the shooter, and no USA player near Mitenkov, he simply slid the puck into the empty net.

Asked if Team USA took their foot off the gas defensively, as both goals were scored by defensive miscues, Hughes said, “No. Everyone wants to score and take advantage and we may have pressed a little, but no, I don’t think we took our foot off of the gas. I think it was just a little breakdown and those things happen.”

The Americans play against Sweden Saturday in Victoria.

“Sweden is really good. I have played some of those guys back to the U17 tournament several years ago,” Said Hughes. “It is something that we marked on our schedule for a while. We know they have won something like 44 games in a row, so we are up for the game.”

Asked about the 44 wins in a row versus the single gold medal for Sweden, Hughes said, “…and it’s our turn to win.”

Shots were 66-13 for Team USA.

Elsewhere in the world juniors, Russia took out the Czech Republic 2-1 on Friday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Vintage hockey sweaters spotted in the stands. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News