The Farmies: Nikita Tolopilo makes 31 saves in 4-2 loss to the Coachella Valley Firebirds

Photo credit:John Morrow/Abbotsford News
Cody Severtson
4 months ago
Deja vu, anyone?
For the second straight night, the Abbotsford Canucks dropped a 4-2 decision to the visiting Coachella Valley Firebirds.
Though they used the force to pick up a 2-1 lead after outshooting their Pacific Division rival 13 to 10 through the opening 20 minutes on Star Wars Night.
It was hardly bulls-eying womp-rats back home in their T-16 over the final 40!
In fact, you could say they were in Alderaan places throughout a second period that saw them outshot 18-1 and outscored 3-zip.
As Han Solo said, “Let’s blow this thing and go home.”
And that the Abbotsford Canucks’ did!
Let’s see how they blew it en route to their second straight loss.
Starting Lineup
Opposing lineup
Game #21
1st period
The game peaked early when Darth Vader executed the ceremonial pre-game puck drop.
The Canucks were all over the Firebirds to start, with Vasily Podkolzin backhanding the puck on Chris Driedger 20 seconds into the game. The Firebirds struggled to string together a clean tape-to-tape pass until ex-Canuck Kole Lind caught the Canucks on a sloppy line change, setting up Ville Ottavainen for a shot on Nikita Tolopilo.
Tolopilo made the initial stop but directed the rebound to Andrew Poturalski for the first high-danger chance of the game.
Minutes later, Linus Karlsson accidentally kicked a board-and-out from Michael Joyaux to Coachella’s Ryan Winterton, who dragged around Christian Wolanin for a shot on Tolopilo.
Toloplio, again, redirected the puck out to dangerous territory. Fortunately, a backchecking Aidan McDonough managed to tie up Logan Morrison to deny a follow-up chance.
We wanted to make note of Dmitry Zlodeev’s first few games in the AHL. On Saturday, he situated on a line between Marc Gatcomb and McDonough. Though his skating stride is a little choppy, we liked Zlodeev’s shiftiness and aptitude for the defensive side of the game.
During his few shifts, Zlodeev played deep toward the d-zone hash marks, ready to support the breakout. A turnover inside the d-zone saw Zlodeev activate off the wall to block a point shot that forced the Firebirds into resetting from neutral territory.
On that same shift, Zlodeev played deep inside the zone, again, helping Alex Kannok Leipert spark a breakout, resulting in a shot attempt for Zlodeev. Again, it was the puck-supporting instincts that helped Zlodeev record a shot attempt. After dropping back to help Marc Gatcomb in a puck battle along the boards, Zlodeev landed at the feet of a loose puck and then quickly spun for a wrist shot toward Driedger’s net.
Zlodeev’s shot attempt caromed around the boards to Christian Wolanin, who registered Abbotsford’s second shot on Driedger.
It’s not much, but there have been former top-10 picks of the Vancouver Canucks with less mind for the defensive side of the game. So, excuse me while I point out the little things that I think are neat about a prospect’s game! Especially when the prospect is on the smaller side, yet unafraid of throwing his body around.
Near the midway point of the first, the Firebirds lost Ville Petman after Chase Wouters’ buckled the Finnish winger awkwardly with a hit at the d-zone blue line.
The Firebirds responded shortly after, with Andrew Poturalski slipping past Arshdeep Bains in the neutral zone before shaking Christian Wolanin on the 3-on-3 rush to set up Max McCormick for the tap-in.
Coachella Valley Goal: 1-0 Firebirds
Not great was Kannok Leipert watching the pass unfold and opting not to challenge McCormick.
Not great was Tristen Nielsen backchecking past Bains into the d-zone, but skating wide from McCormick.
Overall, not a great sequence of events for the Canucks.
Fortunately, in his Abbotsford return, Linus Karlsson equalized just 25 seconds later off a fantastic steal by Aatu Räty.
Abbotsford goal: 1-1 Tie
Great was Räty picking up his team-leading 13th point at 5v5 with the steal from behind the net.
Great was Räty’s pass to John Stevens.
Great was Linus Karlsson’s timing on Stevens’ pass to fire it past Driedger.
Overall, an excellent response sequence from the Canucks’ second line.
We’re unsure if it’s the white stick, but Räty has been white-hot lately. With five minutes to go, Räty picked up a fantastic cross-ice feed from Filip Johansson to enter the zone for a little stutter step and shot attempt. That level of confidence and swagger never showed itself last season but has been on full display in Abbotsford these past couple of weeks.
With time winding down, Karlsson drew an interference penalty against McCormick to give Abbotsford the game’s first power play.
Abbotsford’s first power play unit featured Podkolzin, Bains, Karlsson, Räty, and Wolanin. Early on, Bains worked the left wall before setting up a wide-open Karlsson for a shot on Driedger from the goal line.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Bains set up Räty for a one-timer that rebounded out to Podkolzin for a follow-up try.
Though PP1 was buzzing, Colliton rolled out a second power play unit featuring Dries, Nielsen, Wouters, Johansson, and Studnicka.
With less than 30 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Tristen Nielsen nonchalantly walked down the left wing before dishing a gorgeous cross-ice feed to Sheldon Dries for the redirect.
Abbotsford Goal: 2-1 Canucks
The primary assist was Nielsen’s third point in two nights against the Firebirds.
After giving up the opening goal and getting outshot 6-2 through the opening 10 minutes, the Canucks rallied back to generate a one-goal lead while outshooting the Firebirds 13 to 10.
Unfortunately, the momentum was not due to last.
2nd period
The opening of the middle frame was decisively all Coachella.
Through 10 minutes, the Firedbirds spent the entirety (not exaggerating) inside the Canucks’ zone, outshooting the home team 8-0 while scoring two straight to kill Abbotsford’s lead and regain theirs.
Coachella Goal: 2-2 Tie
The game-tying goal sequence sums up Abbotsford’s play through the first 10 minutes. Lots of puck chasing, puck watching, and lost battles.
While we liked seeing Bains drop down to make the sacrifice block attempt on Jaycob Megna’s one-timer, we’d have preferred seeing one of Dries or Nielsen attacking the shooter at the right circle to prevent the rebound out to Megna in the first place. As it was, the Canucks were simply too flatfooted.
Seven minutes into the frame, Filip Johansson ripped a shot that deflected wide of Driedger’s net, which stood as the team’s most dangerous look of the opening 10.
I’m not kidding.
The second goal was, as they say, “a tough one.”
The tiebreaking goal from Ville Ottavainen began with a bizarre non-interference call on Tristen Nielsen.
First, Podkolzin appeared to have sprung Nielsen into the Firebirds’ zone for a breakaway, but Nielsen was bodied down by the eventual goalscorer Ottavainen while racing to the puck.
As the Canucks panicked on the reset, the Firebirds capitalized on a scramble outside of Tolopilo’s crease to break the tie.
Coachella Valley Goal: 3-2 Firebirds
The goal was a backbreaker for the club, and it didn’t stop the onslaught of shots from Coachella. A particularly brutal sequence saw Filip Johansson and Matt Irwin block back-to-back one-timers off the leg.
Then, Max McCormick picked up a caroming puck outside of the left circle, then set up Luke Henman for a missle under the foot of Christian Wolanin that gave the Firebirds a two-goal lead.
Coachella Valley Goal: 4-2 Firebirds
Hilariously, the AHL stats keepers gave John Stevens credit for a shot on goal with less than five minutes to go, not realizing that it was a shot against his own netminder.
The stats keepers eventually recognized the error and withdrew the shot.
It was one of those periods.
Johansson drew a tripping minor against Poturalski to give the Canucks a desperately needed power play opportunity.
To no one’s surprise, the Canucks registered a single shot on net, while the Firebirds recorded two.
This little tip on net from Dries at the net front would go down as Abbotsford’s lone shot of the period.
Though the period will go down as three goals against in 20 minutes for Nikita Tolopilo, he did everything he could while the team in front of him s*** the bed, including this breakaway stop on Shane Wright.
The Canucks finished the period outshot 18 to 1.
Not a typo.
3rd period
The Canucks looked marginally better to start the final period. Sheldon Dries ripped a shot on Driedger in the opening minute that matched the club’s second-period output.
Then, Jack Studnicka drew a holding minor against Gustav Olofsson to give Abbotsford their second straight power play opportunity. Unfortunately, a nice give-and-go between Bains and Räty to set up Linus Karlsson was the team’s best chance on the man advantage.
Shortly after the power play’s expiry, Aidan McDonough drew a kneeing penalty against Ottavainen to hand Abbotsford their third straight power play.
The Canucks looked for the Bains/Räty give-and-go setup early and often, but their best look was a one-timer by Räty that deflected wide of the goal.
Through two early power play opportunities in the first 10 minutes, Abbotsford managed just a single shot on net.
Upon the reset at 5-on-5, John Stevens set up defenceman Chad Nychuk for a tip-attempt after the latter jumped up the middle to join the rush.
Midway through the period, Chase Wouters got caught hooking Andrew Poturalski, putting Abbotsford on their first PK of the night.
Abbotsford’s first PK quadsome was Matt Irwin, Alex Kannok Leipert, Aatu Räty, and John Stevens.
Seconds onto the PK, Kannok Leipert checked Connor Carrick head-first into the boards, giving the Firebirds an extended 5-on-3.
Against Abbotsford on Friday night, the Firebirds scored their lone power play goal (after eight opportunities) on a similarly extensive 5-on-3 advantage.
Colliton rolled out a PK trio featuring all of the veterans: Wolanin, Stevens, and Irwin.
Nikita Tolopilo stood strong, stopping several high-danger looks, including a one-timer chance from Carrick, set up by a cross-ice pass from Kole Lind.
Abbotsford pressured late following the successful 5-on-3 PK but struggled to land anything on Driedger. Colliton shook up the forward trios to get his club within arm’s reach and pulled Tolopilo for the extra attacker with more than three minutes remaining.
With 2:17 to go, Aatu Räty hammered a one-timer on Driedger that rebounded into the crease as he sailed wide out of position. Somehow, with a wide-open net, Wouters fired his tap in wide of the goal.
It was a bizarre close to the game, as the Firebirds seemingly generated more shot attempts on the empty net than Abbotsford did with the extra man.
The closing sequence did give us a shot of Bains blocking an empty netter with his left skate.
Final score
Coachella Valley defeats Abbotsford 4-2
CanucksArmy’s Three Stars
Let’s be honest; no one deserves a 1st star award after a second period like that. It was brutal, ugly hockey to watch. The PK looked good, but the power play looked lost, repeatedly trying the same give-and-go play between Räty and Bains without ever looking to the right wing for a one-timer option.
Speaking of “second period like that,” our second star belongs to Nikita Tolopilo, who stood on his head while his teammates laid an egg in front of him. Saturday’s loss was Tolopilo’s third sub-.900 save percentage performance of his young AHL career, but the stats don’t do his performance justice. He was left out to dry by his teammates. Were it not for Tolopilo’s timely saves, this could have been a 5-2 or 6-2 loss, especially after the two-minute 5-on-3 power play in the third period.
Again, see our first bullet point on “worth awards.” Aatu Räty was the best of a bad bunch. He looked dynamic with the puck early and helped set up numerous chances for his linemates—it’s unfortunate how the rest of the game progressed, as this could have been a statement game for him.
Next up on the Docket
The Canucks unfortunately run it back against the Firebirds when they head out for a three-game road trip to the desert beginning on Wednesday night.

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