A Russian team that looks for its third medal in as many years kicked off its campaign in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships with a 3-2 overtime victory over Slovakia on December 26.
Nikita Kucherov, a former Quebec Remparts forward who now plays for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, had Russia’s first goal of the tournament, on a play that some called into question for possibly being offsides.
The goal occurred at the 14:04 mark of the first period, with former Remparts teammate Mikhail Grigorenko notching the lone assist.
Kucherov is a 2011 draft choice of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, while Grigorenko was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in 2012. Grigorenko leads the Remparts in goals and assists and was named QMJHL Rookie of the Year last season; Kucherov had 10 points in six games with Quebec and has 12 points in seven games with Rouyn-Noranda.
Alexander Khokhlachyov picked up a pass from Andrei Sigaryov less than halfway through the middle frame to make it 2-0 Russia. Nail Yakupov also picked up an assist on the goal.
Khokhlachyov currently plays center for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires after being drafted by the NHL’s Boston Bruins in 2011. Sigaryov plays for SKA St. Petersburg and is undrafted, while Yakupov was the first overall selection in 2012 by the Edmonton Oilers. The former Sarnia Sting right winger now plays with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in the KHL.
Slovakia’s Matus Matis displayed some hard work behind the net to put some pressure on Russia with less than six minutes remaining in the second period – and it paid off, as a couple of passes led to Matis’ first goal of the tournament, cutting the Russian lead to 2-1.
Matis is a former QMJHLer, having played 33 games with Chicoutimi in 2010-11 before spending time in the GMHL and NAHL and then playing overseas with Slovakia. Tomas Mikus and Marko Dano had the assists on Matis’ goal.
The second period saw no penalties called, and the game ended up being the least-penalized of the four World Juniors games on the opening day of the tournament, despite being a pretty physical game.
Matis took the first Slovakia penalty of the third period, on a kneeing incident against Danil Zharkov, after the Slovakian team was unable to capitalize on an earlier Russian penalty to Khokhlachyov.
Russia was later served a too many men penalty with 4:51 remaining in regulation time, but Slovakia was unable to capitalize on the opportunity to tie the game at two.
A four-minute major for cross-checking served to Maxim Shalunov with 2:20 remaining in regulation, however, allowed Slovakia to tie it with less than 40 seconds remaining in the third period and carry the power play into the overtime frame.
Nearly all of the overtime period passed without action until Slovakia’s David Bajanik took a penalty with just fifteen seconds remaining, tripping up a Andrei Sigaryov in the midst of a breakaway.
Despite temporarily saving the game for Slovakia, Bajanik’s penalty proved troublesome. Albert Yarullin scored on a bullet shot just five seconds into the penalty, giving Russia the 3-2 overtime victory.
Andrei Vasilevski had 32 saves for Russia, while Adam Nagy had 24 saves for Slovakia, as Russia picked up a pair of points and Slovakia one point.
Russia continues its play in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships with a game against the United States on December 28, while Slovakia will face off against Canada on that same day.