Saturday, January 3, 2009

Russia to Face Canada

The Czechs, meanwhile, will play the Americans for fifth place on Sunday.

After experiencing significant difficulties through two periods, the Russians exploded for four third-period goals.

"Tonight we paid more attention to defence," said Russian captain Nikita Filatov. "In the second period, we didn't play very well. We stopped skating. But in the third, we played more the way we wanted to."

The Russians came to the game with their confidence shaken after a 5-0 loss to Sweden on New Year’s Eve, and it showed. They had difficulty stringing passes together and they rarely got into a rhythm. The entertainment level of the game was limited, and the lesser-skilled Czechs didn’t mind this at all.

The Czechs came into this game as heavy underdogs, and despite playing as well as they could, they were never able to generate any serious offence. The Czechs outshot Russia 14-7 in the second period, but Russian goaltender Vadim Zhelobnyuk proved to be more successful than Danila Alistratov against the Swedes the other day.

Zhelobnyuk looked awkward and unorthodox in many situations, but he did the most important thing: stop the puck. Seven minutes into the second period he foiled the Czechs on what could have been a turning point. With Russia ahead 1-0, Milan Doczy was sent clear on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box, but Zhelobnyuk read the Czech defenceman well and didn't let him put it through the five-hole.

Russia took the lead at 11:53 of the opening period on a power play. Sergei Andronov scored his second goal of the championship by slamming home a rebound after a one-timer by Vyacheslav Voinov.

Filatov finally gave his team some breathing room 1:25 into the third period. He scored the eventual winner off a nice pass from Evgeni Grachev, who next clinched the victory in a most unusual fashion. Grachev scored the 3-0 goal at 7:26 on a breakaway when the Czechs were on a two-man advantage.

"The third goal was awful," said Czech defenceman Ondrej Roman. "We thought we could get back into the game with a power play goal, but I don't know what happened. They scored to make it 3-0."

The Czechs finally came to life when Radko Gudas got one past Zhelobnyuk during the same power play, but Evgeni Dadonov restored the three-goal lead with six minutes left. Pavel Chernov got the fifth goal on a nice tip, with 31 seconds left. The Russians were all set to move on.

"Before the game, it's 50/50," Russian coach Sergei Nemchinov said when asked to assess Russia's chances versus Canada. "Of course, Canada is a very strong team on every line. Tomorrow, it'll be a great atmosphere. We'll have to play our best game."

"The start of the game and the first goal are going to be very important," added Filatov. "But in the end, we just have to score one more than Canada."

The Czech Republic has not defeated Russia at the IIHF World Junior Championship since its 1-0 shoot-out win in the 2000 gold medal game in Skelleftea, Sweden. Since then, the Czech development program has not been nearly as successful. The Czechs haven't made the U20 Final Four since 2005.

(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at

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