World Under-18 Championship Ramblings: Opening Day Capped by USA-Russia Drama

Tony Ferrari

2021-04-27

Photo courtesy of the IIHF

 

That was fun!

 

The World Under-18 Championships had an exciting opening day with a 7-6 overtime comeback win by Russia after being down 5-1 to their rival Americans. We also saw Fabian Lysell and Isak Rosén do some fun stuff for Sweden in their win over Belarus. The Czech team put together a solid team effort in their win over Germany as they took a step towards ensuring a quarterfinal berth by beating the team they are likely competing with for the fourth spot in the group. Attilio Biasca helped lead the way as the Swiss took down the Latvians in their first game of the tournament. Let’s take a trip around day one!

 

Group A

Sweden 5-1 Belarus

This game was much closer than the score indicates. The Swedes have a ton of firepower in their lineup but seemed to be a bit off at even-strength throughout the night. They were getting shots on goal and making things happen but they didn’t seem to be dominating play the way you’d expect from Sweden against a team that doesn’t have many players that casual fans even know. One player that they may come to know after this event however is Ivan Zhigalov, the Belarusian goaltender who held them in the game for much of the night. He was able to hold the Belarusian team within one goal until the final two minutes of the second period and then continued to battle in the third period keeping it 3-1 until the final two minutes of the third period. All in all, Zhigalov was very strong in net and likely deserved a better fate than a 5-1 loss.

With that said, Fabian Lysell and Isak Rosén had some impressive moments throughout the game. The two likely first-round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft helped push the pace of play when they were on the ice. Fabian Lysell played with speed and his typical predatory instincts, attacking play and creating for himself and his teammates. Rosén was able to showcase his impressive shot and his silky hands on a number of shifts. Embarrassing defenders and working the puck to his teammates, Rosén was a ton of fun in this game! With last years event canceled, Sweden came in as the defending champs and while they didn’t look polished, they got the job done. On to Canada tonight.

 

Switzerland 4-2 Latvia 

This was a game that seemed to have zero eyes on it and if we’re being honest, it wasn’t a game that I watched live either. I went back at the end of the day and watched it afterward because it was going on during the same time as what will go down as one of the most epic games of this tournament, but we will get to that soon enough. In this one, we saw a few sleeper candidates pick up a couple of points and the Swiss team coming away victorious in a game they were expected to win. Undersized defender Dario Sidler looked pretty solid at both ends of the ice, with his mobility being showcased throughout the night as he finished with two assists. Halifax Mooseheads import forward Attilio Biasca was probably the best Swiss player on the ice throughout the night. He put his skill and playmaking on display, making creative passes and manipulating the Latvian defenders on nearly every shift.

 

The Latvians kept up to the Swiss pace and looked more than capable of winning this game at times as they never seemed to be out of it. The biggest issue for the Latvians was that they couldn’t seem to stay out of the penalty box, especially in a particularly tight second period. While the Swiss were only one-for-five on the powerplay, being down a man for almost 10 minutes of total game time is a bit of a tall task for a team that has limitations on their roster as it is. The Latvians outshot the Swiss in every period but couldn’t get the production they needed to pull out the win. It was a competitive game and with the Swiss seemingly destined for thrid in the group, this is a good game for the Latvians to build off of as they look at Belarus as their main competition for a quarterfinal spot.

 

Group B

Czech Republic 3-1 Germany 

This game was bogged down a bit because both teams had penalty issues, with six per side. The Czech team was clearly the better team on paper with some impressive young talent but they just seemed out of sorts a bit and with the penalty box parade, neither team could really get into a groove. The victorious Czech team was led by 2021 NHL Draft prospect Stanislav Svozil who had an up-and-down game. He seemed to make some nice passes on the breakout and his defensive game was solid but there were a number of moments where he just seemed off. He had a couple of tumbles just pivoting, including once where he fell trying to keep a puck in leading to a breakaway. Prized 2022 prospect David Jiříček had a bit of a rough game as well. He was shooting into feet and seemingly not utilizing his teammates the way he’s typically done in the past. When the game ended, despite being ahead in most categories across all teams stats including outshooting Germany 40-19, the Czech team was a bit lucky to come out of this one with the victory.

 

The German team was struggling a bit but credit to their goaltender Nikita Quapp who held the Germans in this game. He made 37 saves, standing on his head at times just to keep the Germans in this one. The team in front of him was clearly lacking that Seider, Peterka, Reichel, or Stützle. They are an emerging hockey country and maybe Quapp is a player to keep your eye on throughout the rest of this tournament but the skater talent isn’t what it’s been in recent years. The Germans are expected to finish at the bottom of this group and they lose to the Czechs who were likely their only opportunity to pull out a win with Finland, Russia, and the Americans on the schedule coming up.

 

Russia 7-6 (OT) USA

This was the late game in Group B and the marquee matchup of the opening day. Quite frankly, it did not disappoint. There was feistiness, drama, a comeback for the ages, and overtime magic. This was everything you could have expected this game to be and more because we were gifted Chris Peters on the call. Let’s walk through this one period by period.

 

The first period was controlled by the U.S. for the most part with a small blip in the middle of the period where the Russians seemed to get their legs going. Ryan Chesley got the Americans on the board early, scoring just under three minutes into the game and potential 2021 first-rounder Dylan Duke added another goal just over five minutes in. The U.S. were up by two early. After a Danila Yurov got Russia on the board at the midway point, Russian captain Nikita Chibrikov was in the box for two and ten for an illegal check to the head of Justin Janicke. On the powerplay, Sean Behrens sniped top corner on a great set-up by 2022 prospect Lane Hutson who wound up the biggest slapshot a 5’7″ defender I’ve ever seen before sending a soft pass to Behrens who had all the time in the world as everyone was still waiting for Hutson’s shot. At the end of one, it was 3-1 for the ‘home’ team.

The second period started with the U.S. squad scoring early again as Ethan Straky scored 1:27 into the period, forcing the Russians to pull Kirill Gerasimyuk, their top U18 netminder. Under three minutes later, the U.S. NTDP leading scorer Sasha Pastujov put the Americans up 5-1.

 

With the Russian team with their backs against the wall, it only made sense that their youngest player, super prospect Matvei Michkov got things going for the Russians. The young phenom scored two of the next three goals with  Vsevolod Gaidamak scoring a goal in between Michkov’s pair. Things began to get increasingly chippy at this point and the game looked to have new life. With Dylan Duke and Ivan Miroshnichenko trading goals in the final four minutes of the period, the Russian had pulled within one goal after being down 5-1 less than 25 minutes through the game.

The third period was a bit of a back and forth period. The game was hectic and tempers were flaring a bit. As the game wore on, tensions rose and the Russians seemed to be pushing more and more. With about five minutes to play, Fyodor Svechkov collected a loose puck in the offensive zone, made a couple of since moves as he cut across the slot, and showed some incredible patience before finding Miroshnichenko in front for a tap in goal to tie the game! Maybe one of the most underrated parts of the entire situation is that two-goal scorer Ivan Miroshnichenko was almost barred from playing because of visa issues but USA Hockey, the IIHF, and the Russian Hockey Federation worked together to get Miroshnicheko a one-time exemption. Russian hockey fans are probably pretty happy about that.

Pushing the game to overtime, the Russian had forced an improbable overtime. What happened next was epic, legendary, phenomenal, and just fun as hell. 1:25 seconds into overtime, Russian captain Nikita Chibrikov takes the puck end-to-end and beats U.S. goaltender Gibson Homer from a bad angle. Down to his knees as he slid into the neutral zone, the Russian squad mobbed their captain and the game was over. Russia was victorious after an insane comeback.

 

What a game.

 

*****

 

Be sure to follow DobberProspects on Twitter for all of the latest on the World Under-18’s, we will be tweeting out the schedule and scores for every game and providing coverage throughout the tournament! You can follow me on Twitter @theTonyFerrari for more on the U18s and the 2021 NHL Draft in general!