RUSSIANS HOLD ON, BEAT FINNS TO WIN U17 GOLD
JASON LA ROSE
SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Daniil Gushchin and Ignat Kokhanin scored goals in the second period, helping Russia to a 2-1 win over Finland on Saturday night and its fourth gold medal at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The Russians also stood atop the podium in 2000, 2012 and 2014. They have won a medal in seven of the last eight years.
It was a defensive struggle from the drop of the puck; Russia needed 13 minutes to record its first shot of the game, and finished with just 16, while the Finns managed to direct 23 towards goaltender Yaroslav Askarov.
They made one of their eight first-period shots count early; Eero Niemi jumped all over a Ruben Rafkin rebound and beat Askarov to give Finland a 1-0 lead just 4:14 in.
But that would be the lone puck to beat Askarov, who earned a place on the tournament all-star team after finishing with a 1.40 goals-against average and .948 goals-against average, both tops among all netminders who played more than one game.
Russia answered just shy of the five-minute mark of the second period when Gushchin battled through a pair of Finnish defenders and beat goaltender Joel Blomqvist upstairs for a shorthanded goal.
Kokhanin added the game-winner late in the middle frame, forcing a turnover behind the net before barging his way in front and tucking a shot past Blomqvist.
The Finns carried the play in the third period, outshooting Russia 10-4, but couldn’t find the game-tying goal.
They came close in the dying seconds when a scrambled shot in front hit a Russian skate and trickled towards the goal-line, but Askarov made a desperation reach with his blocker to keep the puck out.
Despite the loss, Finland earned its best U17 finish since taking silver in 1995.
Askarov was joined on the all-star team by a pair of his teammates, defenceman Yan Kuznetsov and forward Vasili Ponomaryov. Defenceman Ryan O’Rourke (Canada Black) and forwards Connor McClennon (Canada White) and Lucas Raymond (Sweden) rounded out the team.