Team Russia, led by 15 KHL players, conquered the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship, after a thrill against Team Switzerland. Lokomotiv’s Kirill Slepets had a hat-trick as Russia downed the Swiss 5-2 for bronze.
In the bronze-medal game, the Russians had the edge for most of the game, but the Swiss fought hard until the final horn, even if it wasn’t enough to win their first WJC medal since 1998.
The Russians ended the tournament with their sixth bronze medal in the last twelve editions and improving last year’s showing – when the team led by Valery Bragin suffered from a quarterfinal exit once again against Team USA. Many players stand out for the Russians. HC Sochi’s goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov was awarded Best Goalie honors. CSKA Moscow’s Alexander Romanov was named Best Defenseman of the tournament. Lokomotiv’s Grigory Denisenko – who had an assist yesterday against the Swiss – was the tournament top-scorer, tied with Finland’s Aleksi Heponiemi. Both Romanov and Grigorenko were included in the post-tournament media All-Star Team.
Russians were also atop of the plus-minus rankings. Alexander Romanov finished the tournament being plus-12, while Alexander Alexeyev and Dmitry Samorukov were plus-nine, tied at second place with Finland’s Aarnie Talvitie. Kirill Slepets was plus-7, while Traktor’s Vitaly Kravtsov and Salavat Yulaev’s Pavel Shen were plus-4.
Talking again about Romanov, he finished the tournament also as the top-scoring defenseman, with 8 (1+7) points in seven games. Kravtsov also finished in the top-20, with six points in seven games. Other players who had strong showings were Sibir Novosibirsk’s Nikita Shashkov (also scoring yesterday), and SKA’s young gun Vasily Podkolzin. The 2001-born forward didn’t manage to score but had three assists and gathered significant experience getting iced in critical situations in different games. The tournament had certainly helped Podkolzin, who is now certainly looking to play other matches in the KHL to keep on growing and developing.
Scoring goals for the Russians were also SKA’s Kirill Marchenko and Ivan Morozov, Lokomotiv’s Nikolai Kovalenko – whose role in the team wasn’t as significant as expected due to an early injury – and HC Sochi’s Stepan Starkov. Among defensemen, Savely Olshansky had two assists in the tournament, while Sibir’s Ilya Morozov had one goal and one helper.
The next year in the Czech Republic, the Russians may be back even stronger, as many players will have a chance to return for a second tournament: Denisenko, Romanov, Podkolzin, Ivan Morozov, Marchenko, Danila Zhuravlyov, and third goalie Amir Miftakhov.
Team Russia wasn’t the only team featuring KHL players. Slovakia’s Adam Liska and Kazakhstan’s Valery Orekhov are both having strong seasons at the pro level with their respective teams, HC Slovan Bratislava, and Barys Astana.
A WJC veteran at his second tournament, Adam Liska was his team’s top scorer – tied with defenseman Martin Fehervary – with five points in as many games. The Slovan Bratislava forward was a true leader for the Slovakians, serving as an alternate captain and logging significant ice time. Slovakia reached the quarterfinals stage, just like last year in Buffalo, and all in all was a good tournament for them, with a few young players in the lineup that got their feet wet in sight of next year’s WJC in the Czech Republic.
After a hard-fought battle against Team Denmark, Kazakhstan managed to stay in the elite division, edging the Danes in two games in the best-of-three relegation series. Barys Astana’s defenseman Valery Orekhov showed great awareness and maturity, ending the tournament as his team’s second-best scorer with five points in six games. Orekhov’s experience in the KHL has been instrumental in Kazakhstan’s effort in both the round robin and relegation round. Moreover, Sayan Daniyar, who served as first line’s center, will captain the Eastern Conference at the upcoming JHL Challenge Cup at the Week of Hockey Stars in Tatarstan.
The 2020 World Junior Championships will be held in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic, from December 26, 2019, to January 5, 2020.