By Daniel Nugent-Bowman, The StarPhoenix
Andrey Makarov was one of the biggest reasons the Saskatoon Blades shocked the heralded Halifax Mooseheads 5-2 Sunday in their second Memorial Cup round robin game.
However, the 29-save performance by the Blades goaltender wasn’t the least bit astonishing to Stefan Fournier.
Fournier, the Mooseheads captain, and Makarov were teammates with the QMJHL’s Lewiston Maineiacs during the 2010-11 season before the team folded.
A leaguewide dispersal draft was held and Fournier ended up with the Victoriaville Tigres, while Makarov wasn’t picked.
The way Makarov’s career was evolved since then, Fournier’s sure a few QMJHL teams are wishing they would have had better foresight.
“When a goalie comes from Russia, you don’t really have an idea of how great they are,” the six-foot-three, 210-pound winger said. “Being on his team, I knew how great of a goaltender that he was.
“When he got passed up, I was surprised. The success that he amassed during the last two seasons – between world juniors last season, his season this season, world juniors again – he’s put together an impressive resume. He was signed by (the NHL’s) Buffalo (Sabres) because of it.”
Makarov reentered the CHL import draft and was selected 30th overall by the Blades in 2011. He was named the team’s MVP in each of his two seasons and won silver and bronze medals for Russia at the 2012 and 2013 world junior championships.
Makarov mostly backed up overage netminder Nicolas Champion in Lewiston, so Fournier admitted he’s come a long way.
“Obviously, he got a little more technical,” said the overage Moosehead, who had 35 goals and 72 points in 66 games this season. “I think that’s something that came with age also.
“Makki was my goalie when he was 17 years old. Maybe he wasn’t as mature in his game,” Fournier added. “He’s obviously turned out to be a pretty great goalie. That’s great for him. I’m happy for him.”
Before this tournament, Fournier and Makarov last saw each other last June in Pittsburgh at the NHL draft.
Fournier was there to accompany his younger brother, Dillon, who was picked in the second round by Chicago. Makarov wasn’t selected, but signed a free-agent contract with Buffalo in September.
They ran into each other again last Thursday.
Although Makarov’s English is much better than when he was in Lewiston – Fournier said he knew “three or four words” – the Mooseheads winger decided to show off his Russian skills during their latest encounter.
“I’ll be completely honest. I know about 30 words,” he said. “Besides, ‘Hey, how are you?’ ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ they’re all pretty bad. I don’t think I’m at liberty to share them with everyone.”
So was the air completely blue during their chat?
“Yeah, but not in a serious way,” Fournier said. “It was the same way as if he started telling me something in English. I’m just going to have a big smile on my face and look at him like, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”
The Blades cancelled their Monday practice and Makarov wasn’t made available to the media. He said Saturday that he and Fournier joked about which would get the better of the other when they faced off.
All kidding aside, Ma-karov was a difference-maker in the Blades’ win, but Fournier knows the Mooseheads can be better.
“He had a really good game,” Fournier said. “To his credit, he made the big stops when they needed to be made.
“He didn’t get the right amount of traffic that we should have with second pucks. Ultimately, that was the difference.”
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