By Andy Potts – IIHF.com
Going into the final day of the competition, Filip Pesan’s Czech Republic team had a perfect record after wins over Sweden and Finland; Russia was a point behind after requiring overtime to subdue the Swedes. With everything to play for, the teams served up a classic encounter: both teams held the lead, the Czechs clawed back a two-goal deficit on a 5-on-3 power play and then snatched a late tying goal when Filip Zadina (Halifax Mooseheads) made it 5-5 after goalie Adam Brizgala was pulled with 90 seconds remaining. But the Russians kept their heads and Mikhail Maltsev (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg) fired a backhand shot into the top corner to deliver an overtime winner for Valeri Bragin’s youngsters.
That victory was enough to match the Czechs’ seven-point tally, with the head-to-head victory on the final day in Vierumaki proving decisive.
For head coach Bragin, the key thing was the competitive spirit of the entire tournament, especially as he begins to finalize his World Championship roster.
“We played some really useful games,” he said. “We need to look closely at the candidates for the World Juniors because there’s only our November series in Canada to play before the championship. Therefore, the tougher the games, the better is it for the coaching staff: we can see what these players are made of.”
All of Russia’s games were tight. Against Sweden, despite a dream start with two goals in 33 seconds, Tre Kronor fought back to tie the scores with two power play goals. Then, against Finland, the pressure was on from the start as the hosts took a first-period lead through Roni Allen (JYP); Dynamo Moscow prospect Yegor Zaitsev snatched a late 2-1 victory with a power play goal on 57:14.
The need to assess potential players for Buffalo prompted Bragin to call up an experimental roster. Of the 22 youngsters who travelled to Finland, only Grigori Dronov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) featured in last year’s U20 national team at the IIHF World Junior Championship and none were involved in the U18 bronze medal-winning roster from 2017. There were also no call-ups for any Russian players based in North America.
Russia’s leading scorer in the tournament was Artyom Manukyan, who plays his hockey within the Avangard organisation in Omsk. The 19-year-old is only just making an impact on the international scene, having never featured in Russia’s teams at the U18 Worlds. However, he’s been earmarked as a man with a bright future after a record-breaking season in the MHL, the KHL’s junior league, last season. Manukyan rattled up 105 points in 60 games, with 39 goals and 66 assists. And all that was on a team that failed to make the playoffs. In Finland, he scored three in three, including the overtime winner in the opening game against Sweden, and added an assist to join a three-way tie with Czech duo Martin Kaut (Dynamo Pardubice) and Ostap Safin (Sparta Prague) on top of the scoring charts.
Finland, beaten in its first two games, restored some pride on Saturday with a resounding 6-1 win over Sweden, despite trailing 0-1 at the first intermission. The Finns scored three in each of the remaining sessions, and finished the competition with eight different goal scorers. The Swedes finished bottom of the table, picking up a solitary point from that overtime loss against Russia on the opening day.
|Four Nations Tournament in Finland|
|24 Aug.||Vierumaki (FIN)||Sweden||Russia||2-3 OT|
|24 Aug.||Lahti (FIN)||Finland||Czech Rep.||1-3|
|25 Aug.||Vierumaki (FIN)||Czech Rep.||Sweden||4-2|
|25 Aug.||Lahti (FIN)||Finland||Russia||1-2|
|26 Aug.||Vierumaki (FIN)||Russia||Czech Rep.||6-5 OT|
|26 Aug.||Lahti (FIN)||Finland||Sweden||6-1|
|Standings: 1. Russia 7, 2. Czech Rep. 7, 3. Finland 3, 4. Sweden 1|