Russia 8 USA 3
The Americans took full advantage of their scoring opportunities through 40 minutes Wednesday night at the Red Deer Servus Arena.
The Russians, not so much.
But in the end, Russia’s dominance paid off in an impressive 8-3 win over the United States, earning them first place in Pool B of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup under-18 hockey tournament with a 3-0 record.
Russia will face Sweden in one semifinal Friday at Rogers Place in Edmonton and the Americans, who were 2-1 in pool play, will play Canada in the other semi. Canada defeated Sweden 4-3 Wednesday in the provincial capital to take top spot in Pool A with a 3-0 slate.
The gold medal game is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rogers Place.
Over 1,200 fans flocked to the Servus Arena anticipating a highly competitive battle, but when the Russians jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes — while outshooting their opponents 21-3 — it appeared that the rout was on.
The USA squad, though, scored three goals on just eight shots in the middle period and trailed by a mere count of 4-3 heading into the final frame.
The Russians pulled away in the third period, however, getting goals from Daniil Gushchin, Mikhail Abramov, team captain Vasili Podkolzin and Roman Bychkov, who concluded the scoring with a power play marker in the final minute.
Finishing first in Pool B was a definite plus for the Russian team, said head coach Vladimir Filatov.
“We’d like to meet Canada later than in the semifinal and our bet was that Canada would beat Sweden,” Filatov said through an interpreter. “At the same time we want to win every game we play so it was very important to be first in the group and play Canada later than in the semifinals.
“This is just an obvious desire.”
The Russians controlled the opening period from the drop of the puck and finally solved American netminder Derek Mullahy when Gushchin cashed a rebound 12:18 into the contest.
Yaroslav Likhachyov converted another rebound from the right circle at 16:45 and Ilya Miranov scored from the low slot just under two minutes later after taking a nifty feed from Ilya Nikolayev.
“Of course I didn’t expect that. After the first period we were pretty much surprised with our performance,” said Filatov of the manner in which his team owned the Americans.
The United States was opportunistic in the second period despite being outshot 19-8, their rally sparked by Robert Mastrosimone who beat Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov with a high shot from in tight at the 2:08 mark.
Arthur Kaliyev pulled the USA to within one with a power-play tally 68 seconds later and Sam Colangelo made it a 3-3 contest before the midway point of the period with another man-advantage goal, deflecting a point shot by Luke Reid.
Podkolzin restored Russia’s lead late in the stanza on a one-timer off a cross-ice pass from Nikolayev, but the Americans had made a statement.
“Obviously a tough start there, but we were very resilient and I think it showed being down 3-0,” said USA forward John Farinacci. “The message in the dressing room was let’s keep things simple and kind of get back to our game plan, the way we’ve been playing.”
The third period, as it turned out, was all Russia.
“I think we maybe got away from our game plan a little bit, but I think we still kept working hard, kept being resilient and hard on pucks,” said Farinacci. “Nothing really went wrong, they just played a really good game tonight.”
Mullahy made 47 saves in a losing cause, while Askarov faced 19 shots.
“Just got to look past that one and learn a little bit,” said Farinacci. “It’s a new day tomorrow and we’re looking forward to getting back at it.”
The Swedes and Russians will face off at 3 p.m. Friday and the USA-Canada semifinal will follow at 7 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to that, it should be a good one,” said Farinacci. “Obviously they’re a good team.”
Filatov said his team won’t be looking past Sweden.
“We have to respect them a lot, they make it to the semifinal as well as we did,” said the Russian bench boss. “We don’t have to change much, we have to respect them and play hard, play our game.”
The Team Russia players and staff enjoyed their time in Red Deer, said Filatov.
“The people of Red Deer as well as the organizers were very kind to us. We had everything we need to practise, to train, to play hockey and focus ourselves on our play.
“Of course, I would have liked to see more fans here, but at the same time we have seen a lot of people with Russian flags, Russian banners, which surprised us a little. But it was very heart warming. It was nice to see them and they were cheering for us, not just Russian people but people of Red Deer as well. So we would like to thank them and the organizers as well.”
In the afternoon game at the Servus Arena, Michal Teply notched a power-play goal at 1:09 of overtime to give the Czech Republic a 4-3 win over Finland.
Radek Muzik, Martin Has and Martin Beranek also scored for the Czechs, who finished 1-2 in Pool B. Veeti Miettinen, Mikko Kokkonen and Juuso Parssinen tallied for the 0-3 Finns, who got a 38-save outing from Kari Piiroinen. Nick Malik stopped 26 shots for the winners.
Canada gets late goal to beat Sweden
Defenceman Bowen Byram snapped a 3-3 tie with a power-play goal at 17:34 of the third period to lift Canada past Sweden at Rogers Place.
Josh Williams, Alexis Lafreniere and blueliner Matthew Robertson accounted for the other Canadian goals.
Replying for the Swedes were Alexander Holtz, Elmer Soderblom and Lucas Raymond.
Canadian goalie Nolan Maier made 16 saves. Jesper Wallstedt was busier in the Sweden goal, facing 35 shots.
Earlier, Slovakia downed Switzerland 5-3 to finish with a 1-2 slate in Pool A. The Swiss were winless in three outings.
Michal Mrazik led Slovakia, which held a 33-29 edge in shots, with two goals and an assist. Simon Knak scored twice in a losing cause.
(Results from the semifinal and medal games will be available on the Hlinka Gretzky Cup website, hlinkagretzky.com)