Sweden 1 - Russia 5
RUSSIA OFF TO HOT START WITH THRASHING OF SWEDEN
Russia showed off an impressive offense and stellar goaltending in opening the 2006 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship with a 5-1 win over Team Sweden on December 26 in Kelowna.
Nikolai Kulemin led the way with two tallies, and top prospect Evgeni Malkin was also dominant for the Russians with one goal and one assist and seven shots after joining the squad late last week.
“I feel very good,” Malkin said through an interpreter. “The coaches didn’t put too much pressure on me when I got here. I relaxed and I felt good, and I was happy with my game.”
Team Sweden opened the scoring on the power play in the first period. Swedish forward Nicklas Bergfors flipped a centering pass behind Russian goalie Anton Khudobin at 7:37.
But the Russians answered back just over a minute later, also with the man advantage, when Malkin ripped a one-time slapshot from the right point, tying the score at 8:45.
Nikolai Kulemin made it 2-1 for Russia at 13:51 with another power play marker. Malkin shrugged off a check in the corner before Kulemin grabbed the puck and zipped a wrist shot off the post and in from the faceoff circle.
“I am satisfied with the result,” said Russian Head Coach Sergey Mikhalev. “It is very important to win the first game of a tournament. It was good that we were able to tie the game early and get ahead of them.”
While Malkin showed great offensive prowess, Khudobin provided the Russians with all the defense they needed. Khudobin was superb, stopping 32 of 33 shots including three on a wild flurry midway through the second period when the Swedes were buzzing the Russians. The game could have been much different as Khudobin kept the Swedes at bay in the second, where they outshot Russia 14-7, including a 10-0 gap in the first half of the period
But with 1:57 left in the second, Roman Voloshenko scored the backbreaking goal, banging home a rebound at 18:03 of the third, making the score 3-1.
“The third goal was very tough,” admitted Swedish Head Coach Torgny Bendelin. “We scored the first goal and it would have been nice if we could have kept the lead. If you look at the total picture, they only scored one goal five on five. I think there were times in the game we played very, very good but they scored on the power play and I think that was the key. We have to step up if we want to be one of those three teams that make the playoffs.”
Sergei Shirokov and Kulemin, with his second, rounded out the scoring for Russia in the third period.
As for Malkin, considered to be the best player outside the NHL, he says he is just going about his business and avoiding the pressure of being one of the tournament’s highest-profile stars.
“I try to read as little media as possible,” said Malkin. “I understand the pressure is there, but I play my own hockey and that is what it boils down to.”
PREVIEW: SWEDEN VS. RUSSIA
By Kevin Parnell
Sweden: Starting from Day One, Tre Kronor’s hopes for its first World Junior medal since 1996 will rest on the shoulders of a prototypical Swedish defenceman and a few key offensive leaders. Alexander Edler will lead the Swedish team from the point. The offensive-minded rearguard has been a standout for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL this year and will anchor what should be a dynamic power play. As always, Sweden will rely on puck control. Returning veteran Johannes Salmonsson will have to pick up his offence, as the Spokane Chief forward enters this tournament with just three goals and six assists in 26 WHL games, while goals will also need to come from Nicklas Backstrom, a highly touted prospect for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and Nicklas Bergfors, a New Jersey Devils first-round pick (#23 in 2005) and a great puckhandler. Goaltending is a question mark, as Magnus Akerlund, for instance, struggled against the USA in exhibition play on December 21, giving up two weak goals. The last time the Swedes played Russia at the World Juniors, they lost 5-3 on December 28, 2003 in Helsinki, Finland. A similar result wouldn’t be out of the question today.
Russia: The Russians are coming off a silver medal at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship and are again medal favourites this year. They may have the most talented player in the tournament in Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Evgeni Malkin (#2 overall in 2004), who will suit up for the tournament. Malkin combines great size with offensive vision and should lead this Russian squad into contention. The power play will be a key for Russia, and will be guided by the Metallurg Magnitogorsk superstar, as well as sniper Alexander Radulov, whose quick shot has been on display in the QMJHL with the Quebec Ramparts this year. Another forward to watch is Roman Voloshenko, who enters the tournament with an impressive 30 points in 28 games for the Houston Aeros, the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. On the back end, Kirill Lyamin must play a hard-hitting game to counter the likes of Freddie Petterson of the Calgary Hitmen. Russia’s goaltending, headlined by Anton Khudobin of the Saskatoon Blades, didn’t look too sharp versus Canada in an 8-1 exhibition defeat, but a 5-0 shutout over Switzerland December 23 in Vernon may have restored some confidence.
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André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications