At the annual IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, history usually plays its role. For the Russians, history was on their side, having won nine of their last 10 games against the Czechs. Today’s game however, seemed like a change of the guard as the Czech Republic stunned Russia 5-4 in the opener of the 2018 tournament.
Russia came into the tournament with only two returning players from their bronze medal-winning team a year ago, and the Czech Republic squad contained six players returning to the national team after finishing in fifth place last year, losing their quarter-final matchup against Canada, 5-3. Russia lost their semifinal 4-3 in a heartbreaking shootout to the Americans, but then won in overtime to claim bronze over Sweden.
The game this Boxing Day afternoon started off with a classic see-saw battle. The Czechs opened the scoring on the power play just 4:42 into the contest when Martin Necas scored his first past Alexei Melnichuk to make it 1-0.
Thirty-nine seconds later, the Russians equalized when Alexei Polodyan put his stick down on a point shot from Andrei Altabarmakyan.
The teams exchanged a couple more goals before the first period was done, and although the shots were 15-5 in favour of Russia, the game was deadlocked at two apiece.
The second period saw the Czech Republic team get their second power-play goal on the afternoon when Filip Zadina capped off a nice passing play to let them regain the lead. Late in the middle frame, Filip Chytil got the third whack at the puck in front of Melnichuk to put his team up by two.
The Filip show continued in the third when defenceman Filip Kral scored on a screened point shot to put the Czech team up 5-2.
But the Russians, now with a new goaltender in backup Vladislav Sukhachyov, refused to give up and bow out.
With just over two minutes left on the clock, German Rubtsov, the lone returning player for the Russians, found an open Artur Kayumov who cut the lead to just two. Then, following a timeout and a goalie pull, Russian defender Vladislav Syomin fired a puck that beat a screened Josef Korenar to make it a one-goal game.
In the end however, the performance of Korenar, who stopped 34 saves in the win, made a statement for the Czechs, saying that they aren’t a team to be taken lightly. For the Russians, their team got a rude awakening today, and they know moving forward they will have to pick up their game.
Both teams are back in action on Thursday after getting tomorrow off. The Czech Republic squad will face off against Sweden, and the Russian squad have a date with Switzerland.