Russia – Finland 4-5 (1-1, 0-2, 3-2)
MINSK – Finland came out on top the battle of the top teams in Group B with a 5-4 win against Russia. The Finns had to overcome a late Russian rally to earn their third win at the championship. Russia now has two wins and a loss.
Unless undefeated Finland suffers a meltdown on Sunday against the Czech Republic, they will take first place in Group B and earn an automatic berth to the semi-finals. The news is not bad for Russia either. They have secured a spot in at least the quarterfinals.
Finland once again relied again on the dynamic duo of Teemu Pulkkinen and Mikael Granlund, who scored three of tonight’s five goals. The Finns simply looked hungrier than the Russians for much of the game as they out-worked the Russians at the all the right times. The Russians only sparked to life in the last 10 minutes of the game, which they pulled out a nail-biting rally that included three goals.
Finland came out of the gates strong, putting constant pressure on Russian goaltender Sergei Kostenko. Birthday boy Granlund opened the scoring with the picture perfect shot from the point just 1:55 into action.
Russia and the full, pro-Russia crowd were both frantic after the goal until Emil Galimov slid the puck past Jonathan Iilahti to tie the game. The 1-1 deadlock lasted through the end of the period.
Pulkkinen put in his first of two goals 2:29 into the second period with a power-play effort. Granlund got the assist on the 2-1 goal. Four minutes later it was Pulkkinen again with the 3-1 marker. The goal was the end of the game for Kostenko, who was replaced by Andrei Vasilevski.
Russia came out firing in the third period and swarmed Iilahti’s net. The persistence finally paid off when Evgeni Kutnezsov was left all alone in front of the net to pop in a rebound with 10 minutes left in regulation. Just 2:04 later Vladimir Namestnikov tied the game for Russia, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
The celebration didn’t last long as Konsta Makinen’s first goal of the championship proved to be the most important yet for the Finns. Makinen scored 1:01 later to give the Finns a 4-3 lead, killing the Russia chants coming from the stands.
Finland put in a late empty netter, while Russia countered with a power-play goal in an action packed finale to bring the final to 5-4.
Finland’s 3-0 record is particularly impressive considering that its number-one goaltender Sami Aittokallio went down with an injury before the first game and was sent home.
Both teams have the day off tomorrow and resume play on Sunday, the last day of preliminary round action. Russia will face Slovakia, while Finland has the Czech Republic.
Latvia – Czech Republic 4-5 (0-1, 1-2, 2-2)
MINSK – Thanks to a hat trick from Petr Holik, the Czechs were able to secure their place in the U18 playoff round with a 5-4 win against Latvia. The Czechs now have two wins in three games and have one preliminary round game left against Finland.
The Czech Republic’s top line of Holik, Martin Frk and Michal Vachovec has been lethal at this year’s championship. The trio is responsible for all but two of the Czech goals at this year’s event, and was on fire in today’s game.
Holik kicked off the scoring with 4:04 left in the first period and followed with the 2-0 goal 2:17 into the second period. Latvia countered the strong attack three minutes later when Kristians Pless got his team on the board to cut the lead in half. But again, Holik and mates were there to restore the two-goal lead on the power-play to make it a 3-1 affair.
Just over a minute into the third period, Jiri Sekac put some padding in the Czech lead, with the 4-1 marker.
But just when the Czechs were relaxing, Maris Dilevka led a comeback bid for Latvia putting in two consecutive power-play goals to make it a one goal game with seven minutes left in regulation.
Just over a minute after the 4-3 goal went in, Filip Hantak scored important fifth goal for the Czechs. It proved to be a key goal as Latvia’s Davis Straupe again put the Latvians within the one-goal striking distance with 2:07 left in the game. Latvia called a timeout and pulled goalkeeper Kristers Gudlevskis for the extra attacker, but they couldn’t overcome the hurdle to tie the game and had to settle for their third loss of the championship.
The Czechs have now survived two late comeback bid from their opponents at this year’s U18 championship. The Slovaks also staged a late comeback against the Czechs, who held one for the 4-3 win in that game.
Winless Latvia has its most important game of the preliminary round tomorrow against Slovakia. If both teams end up in the relegation round, the winner will have the upper hand when the four-team round robin group begins on April 20.
United States – Canada 5-0 (3-0, 1-0, 1-0)
BOBRUISK – In a key game in Group A action, USA beat Canada, 5-1, in the tight battle for a playoff spot, and North American bragging rights.
The road to the playoff round just got extremely difficult for the Canadians as they must now beat undefeated group leader Sweden to avoid the relegation round. Meanwhile, the Americans, with two wins and a loss are in good shape to make the quarterfinals.
Jason Zucker scored twice in the first period, including one power-play marker. Canada paid dearly for its penalties as two of the three American first-period goals were with the extra man. Bryan Rust was the other goal scorer of the stanza for USA.
The 3-0 lead stood through most of the second period. A Canadian goal could have easily turned the tide, but instead USA’s Austin Watson put in the 4-0 goal late in the period. The 4-0 advantage was the start of the end for the Canadians.
Rust put in his second of the game 6:02 into the third period, making it an insurmountable 5-0 lead.
Canada’s key match-up against Sweden will be on Sunday after a day off tomorrow. The Americans will also enjoy a rest day before taking on host Belarus.
Switzerland – Sweden 2-10 (0-2, 1-4, 1-4)
BOBRUISK – Sweden stayed unbeaten in U18 action with a 10-2 win against Switzerland The Swedes are in pole position to finish Group A in first place with only one preliminary round game remaining against Canada.
Switzerland did’t generate many offensive chances for much of the game and seemed to be slowly dwindling from their first-game heroics against Canada. In the opening minutes of the second period, the Swiss held the Swedes to a 2-1 lead, but soon after Sweden broke the game wide open with five unanswered goals in a 12-minute span.
John Vestin scored twice for the Swedes, including the opening goal midway through the first period. Johan Larsson put in the 2-0 goal three minutes later. Switzerland was virtually invisible in the first period, generating only four shots. Dominic Lammer cut the lead in half for the Swiss to open the second period scoring, but it would prove to be the only bright spot of the period as Sweden camped out in front of the Swiss net, and jumped ahead to a 6-1 lead by the end of the stanza.
Lukas Meili was replaced in net mid-game by Dennis Saikkonen, but by that point the damage was done. Larsson put in another goal in the third period, his second two-goal outing of the championship. After Larsson scored, teammate Erik Thorell put in a quick pair of goals coming five minutes apart and Henri Snall nudged his team into double digits moments later to secure the solid 10-2 win.
Switzerland was out-shot 43-16.
The Swiss still have a good chance to make the playoff round with the jumbled standings in Group A, but must win against Belarus tomorrow to keep their hopes alive. Sweden has the day off before facing Canada on Sunday.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)