International Ice Hockey Federation

Russia, Slovakia put on a show

Russia, Slovakia put on a show

Shootout decides the heart-stopper

Published 25.04.2018 00:26 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Russia, Slovakia put on a show
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 24: Russia's Maxim Sorkin #27 battles for the puck with Slovakia's Kristian Kovacik #12 during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Pavel Dorofeyev scored the game-winning shootout goal to ensure Russia an emotional 6-5 win. To get there, the hosts had to come back from three goals down.

"Yes, it was probably the most exciting game I've ever played in", said the tournament's sensation, Maxim Cajkovic of Slovakia. "The atmosphere was amazing, the fans, the game of ups and downs. It was perfect. I am just said that we didn't win."

Cajkovic, Marcel Lugos , Martin Bucko, Daniel Tkac and Michal Mrazik all scored once for Slovakia. Kirill Marchenko, Danil Misyul, Alexander Romanov, Vasili Podkolzin and Ruslan Iskhakov had a goal each for Russia, as both teams spread the scoring around.

Despite heavily hinting that he would let goalie Amir Miftakhov rest in the last preliminary game, and indeed not dressing him for the previous night’s practice, head coach Alexander Zybin decided to stick with his starter. It was a decision he would come to second-guess quickly. For Slovakia, Samuel Vyletelka had a big night between the pipes with 40 stops, several of them of highlight variety.

As the “trophy” to the victor of this contest would be a date with Americans, the winners of seven of the last eight U18 Worlds, and the loser’s consolation prize slated to be either Canada or Sweden, it might have seem like a “pick your poison” scenario in terms of the preferable result. Except, of course, for Russia, losing is never really an acceptable outcome and losing at home is never really an option to be contemplated.

Sure enough, the home team threw all it had at the Slovaks from the opening faceoff, effectively spending the first dozen or so shifts entirely in the opposing zone. Russians led 10-1 in shots on goal through the first 10 minutes, with our very unofficial Corsi score standing at, rounded to the nearest hundredth, approximately Everything to Very Little.

One had the right to wonder whether Chelyabinsk would ever get to hear Nech Boze Da, Slovakia’s amazingly cool goal song, ever again. Never worry, the Slavic masterpiece, a soulful yet upbeat plea to persevere against the pain and the odds, was duly blasted through the Traktor Ice Arena loudspeakers not once or even twice, but three times in the space of one minute and 55 seconds.

It was Russia itself that ended the period of Russian dominance, with two straight tripping penalties, giving the Slovaks 52 seconds of five-on-three advantage. They only used 20 of them, as Cajkovic padded his credentials as the tourney’s top scorer with a blast from the left circle that flew past Miftakhov’s glove into the far corner.

And so it was “Nech boze da, nech boze da, ved’ my na to mame”, meaning “God willing, God willing, as we are worthy of this”, sounding in Chelyabinsk with 13:27 gone. A minute and 23 seconds later, with the Slovaks still on the power play, Mrazik semi-whiffed on the puck from point-blank range, but, as Miftakhov kicked it away, Lugos crashed the crease to shovel it past the line for a 2-0 lead 

And so it was “Nech boze da, nech boze da, ten vit’azny gol” (“God willing, God willing, score the winning goal”) all over again for Chelyabinsk. It didn’t turn out to be one, but did it ever contribute to the excitement.

To cap it all off, only 22 ticks later, Bucko’s slap shot from the blue line found its way between Miftakhov’s pads. This was a goal the Russian goalie wished he could have had back. He wouldn’t, though, as the coach finally admitted his error, and Danil Isayev got his first action of the game. Miftakhov wound up allowing three goals on nine shots.

And, oh, yeah, there it was again: “Nech boze da, nech boze da, ved’ dobre to hramy” (“God willing, God willing, for we are playing well”), which was absolutely true, by the way.

"We never expected it to go like this", said Cajkovic. "But they had us down in the first ten minutes, and we said to ourselves that we have to step up. After we scored the third, we were like "Wow, what's happening?" Maybe, it was a bit too much "wow". I am not sure what happened next."

While the Russians took a time-out, the venue producer responded with the soldier-themed “Kombat-batyana” (“Daddy Captain”) for the stunned crowd’s benefit. It was indeed the time for Russia’s leaders to assert their will on their reeling crew.

"The start of the game wasn't bad for us, we created a lot of chances", said Russia's head coach Alexander Zybin. "But then, the unnecessary penalties happened. It was hard to get the boys out of this funk. During the 30-second timeout, we told them to be more disciplined, for the forwards to come back to defend, to stay in their spots, to turn their heads and look around. It was a tough, tough game. Good thing Isayev came into the game and played well."

Having calmed their nerves a bit, the Russians immediately got a goal back, at 17:00. A blue-line wrister by Nikita Okhotyuk was tipped by Marchenko, sending the puck bar-down on the left-handed Vyletelka’s stick side.

"We knew Russia would come out at us in the first 10 minutes, and they were pretty offensive, but our power play got things going", said Slovakia's head coach Viliam Cacho.

The second period was thoroughly dominated by the Russians. In the fourth minute, Vyletelka was forced to make a legendary save, lunging with his right skate to stop Semyon Kizimov after the latter threw a masterful deke on the goalie. A minute and a half later, that same right skate was at the end of Vyletelka’s splits again, as it denied Alexander Zhabreyev’s wrap-around attempt.

As it sometimes happens in hockey, missed opportunities on one end led to a goal on the other. The Slovaks flew away on a quick three-on-one, and Tkac connected on Adam Pauliny’s pass. For those of you keeping the score at home, it was “Aby viac na nás nik nezabudol” (“So that nobody forgets us”) for the fourth time.

But Russia was unrelenting. Later in the period, they engineered their own three-goals-in-under-two-minutes explosion, taking all of 119 seconds to tie the game. First, Misyul pounced on a rebound off the backboard at 32:01.  Then, on an odd-man rush, Kizimov set up Romanov with a backhanded pass at 33:32. And at 34:00, Vyletelka finally broke down and allowed a soft goal as Podkolzin’s shot found a gap between his pads.

So, yes, it was the time for repeat performances of the famed romance By the Long Road, the equally pleasant Russian goal song. The Slovaks, meanwhile, slipped into the panic mode and barely survived until the siren, taking a still-acceptable 4-4 tie into the dressing room, considering the Russians’ 16-5 shot advantage in the period.

However Slovaks must have felt, they were not scared. Also, according to their song, not drunk with pride (“pychou nie sme nikdy opit”), either. The underdogs came out swinging early in the third, forcing Russia into mental errors often associated with this team’s having to play defense.  With Yegor Spiridonov off for tripping, Mrazik slammed one past Isayev from the left circle at 47:50.

In case you are interested, there are also words in the Slovak song about “having them on their knees”, but the Chelyabinsk loudspeakers rarely get to this point. Good thing, too, because on its knees is not how Russians roll. Soon enough, they once again had Slovakia on its heels, and, at 52:36, Iskhakov got a pass from Spiridonov to blast it home through traffic and even the score again.

At this point, the sellout crowd forgot musical entertainment and simply broke into the time-tested “Shay-bu, shay-bu” to spur the home lads on.

This was going to be a heart-stopping ending one way or another, and 60 minutes would not be enough to settle it. The five-minute sudden-death overtime, with each team down to three players, had Slovakia as the more active team, as Isayev foiled Cajkovic on a point-blank shot with a minute left. But this was destined to be decided in the “skills competition.”

"We could've used a little bit more luck in that overtime", said Tkac. "Overall, we played one of our best game. I think, the fans boosted us. They didn't intimidate, they motivated us more."

Marchenko shot first for Russia and hit the goalpost. Cajkovic took his turn but sent it right into Isayev’s pads. In the second round, Dmitri Zavgorodni tried a deke, but the goalie sprawled to deny him with a pad save. Oliver Okuliar was equally unsuccessful trying a delay move on Isayev. In the third go-round, Iskhakov tried a shot and missed wide left. Then, Slovakia’s Niclolas Ferenyi couldn’t beat the goalie on the backhand. Kizimov shot next and sent it through the five-hole to give Russia a cushion. After Kristian Kovacik couldn’t solve Isayev with a low shot, Dorofeyev put Vyletelka down with a great move and shot over the glove to win second place for Russia.

"We are leaving the preliminary stage with only the positive emotions", said Russia's Ruslan Iskhakov. "We wanted to win to go into the quarterfinal with a positive outlook. Comebacks like happen a lot in our age group, but in my career, this is a first."

The hosts will be facing USA in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Slovakia’s next opponent is Sweden.

"I am sad right now, I am sorry", said Cajkovic. "But the sadness will only last until midnight. Then, we will focus on Sweden. We will try to beat them. No, not try. We will beat them. We'll play our best hockey against them."

"We have played America before and led them at one point, but allowed five goals towards the end", said Iskhakov. This is our Achilles heel. We can lose while having a good lead late. I don't think we will allow something like this to happen at the Worlds."

 

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