One of the strongest performers on a consistent basis at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Hockey Championship is the Russian squad. After receiving a medal in each of the past seven tournaments, Russia has always been among the elite.
The Russians are heading into the 2018 tournament in Buffalo, New York, hoping to bounce back after last year’s tournament split between Toronto and Montreal. After finishing the round robin with two wins and two losses, they cruised through their quarter-final matchup against the underdog Danish team by shutting them out 4-0 and only limiting them to 14 shots. Captain Kirill Kaprizov led the way with a pair of goals, and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who started all but one game, had his second straight shutout.
The next game would end their hopes for gold, as a hard-fought battle against the eventual champion United States team wound up in a shootout loss. Denis Guryanov scored two in regulation, and added two more in the shootout, but it wasn’t enough as in the eighth round, Troy Terry potted his third goal and helped seal the victory for the Americans, 4-3.
The Bronze Medal Game against the fast-paced and skilled Swedish team on January 5 was one of the most exciting matches of the tournament. After Kaprizov scored in the opening seconds of the second period, Sweden battled hard, but had struggles scoring on Samsonov until midway through the second when forward Jonathan Dahlen equalized the game. In the opening moments of overtime, Guryanov became the Russian hero, scoring just 33 seconds in and sending his teammates into pandemonium.
With a solid bronze medal performance, making it to the podium was a good result, but the country hasn’t won the gold medal since 2011 when they had one of the most historic comebacks in World Juniors history. Down 3-0 against the Canadians, they entered the third and scored an five straight goals en route to a 5-3 finish.
Although current St. Louis Blues forward Brayden Schenn was named the tournament’s most valuable player, it was his future teammate Vladimir Tarasenko who had a goal and an assist to help the comeback.
Team Russia final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|20||Mikhail Berdin||G||USHL||Sioux Fall Stampede (WPG)|
|30||Vladislav Sukhachyov||G||MHL||Chelyabinsk Polar Bears|
|22||Nikolai Knyzhov||D||VHL||SKA-Neva Saint Petersburg|
|2||Nikita Makeyev||D||KHL||CSKA Moscow|
|5||Artyom Minulin||D||WHL||Swift Current Broncos|
|25||Dmitriy Samorukov||D||OHL||Guelph Storm (EDM)|
|4||Alexander Shepelev||D||VHL||Chelmet Chelyabinsk|
|26||Vladislav Syomin||D||VHL||SKA-Neva Saint Petersburg|
|15||Anatoliy Yelizarov||D||KHL||Salavat Yulaev Ufa|
|6||Yegor Zaitsev||D||KHL||Dynamo Moscow (NJD)|
|11||Vitaliy Abramov||F||QMJHL||Victoriaville Tigres (CBJ)|
|16||Andrei Altybarmakyan||F||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg (CHI)|
|12||Georgi Ivanov||F||KHL||Lokomotiv Yaroslavl|
|28||Artur Kayumov||F||KHL||Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (CHI)|
|24||Klim Kostin||F||AHL||San Antonio Rampage (STL)|
|13||Mikhail Maltsev||F||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg (NJD)|
|10||Artyom Manukyan||F||KHL||Avangard Omsk|
|27||Alexei Polodyan||F||VHL||SKA-Neva Saint Petersburg|
|17||German Rubtsov||F||QMJHL||Acadie-Bathurst Titan (PHI)|
|19||Marsel Sholokhov||F||KHL||Traktor Chelyabinsk|
|7||Dmitriy Sokolov||F||OHL||Sudbury Wolves (MIN)|
|14||Andrei Svechnikov||F||OHL||Barrie Colts|
Although one of the smaller players on the squad, five-foot-nine forward Vitaliy Abramov is one of the more experienced players on the Russian squad this year. He’s played the better part of the last three seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, amassing 96 goals and 223 points in 145 games while still racking up 133 penalty minutes and standing at a +54 goal differential.
Recently he moved over to play with the Victoriaville Tigres, and he doesn’t seem to have lost a beat. In only 13 games with the Tigres, he has five goals and 19 points.
Another player who stands out is 17-year-old Andrei Svechnikov. The younger brother of Evgeny, a former first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, Andrei stands tall at six-foot-three, and can often be found bothering goaltenders in the Ontario Hockey League. So far this season with the Barrie Colts, he has 14 goals and 21 points in just 16 games, while also a being a good two-way player.
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific weaknesses for the Russians, but there is definitely a void in the leadership department. The team was able to score 25 goals in last year’s tournament through seven games, with the leadership of Kaprizov and Guryanov. Both will not be on the roster this season, leaving big holes.
Another question mark is the goaltending. Last year, Ilya Samsonov started all but one game, and through the six he did play, he allowed only 13 goals (with one being the shootout decider for the US team in the semis). Samsonov, the first-round pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has been playing the past four seasons with Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL, and will not be returning to man the pipes.
Of all the players selected to play for the Russians in this year’s tournament, only two are returning from last season’s bronze medal team. Goaltender Vladislav Sukhachyov, who played in the team’s 9-1 rout over Latvia, will be coming to Buffalo, and forward German Rubtsov, who had no points in five games last year, will also don the jersey once again.
It’s hard to find an X-factor on a team that is so young, but one player may put his name in the international spotlight with a breakout performance.
If there is one thing going for the Russian squad in this year’s tournament, it is the fact that ever since head coach Valeri Bragin took over in 2005, the team has only ever missed the podium once, back in 2010.
It will certainly be interesting to see where the Russians can finish this year to keep their hockey dominance, and their medal streak, intact.