Team Russia went to Yaroslavl for the opening action of the Swedish Hockey Games – and returned with a shoot-out victory over Finland after a 2-2 tie. The result extends Russia’s lead at the top of the overall Euro Hockey Tour standings and makes it three wins from three meetings against the Finns so far this season.
It was a big day for Ilya Konovalov. The 20-year-old goalie made his international debut in his home arena in Yaroslavl. The youngster could hardly have suffered a worse start, allowing a goal from the first shot of the game as Niko Ojamaki opened the scoring after 28 seconds. Vadim Shipachyov, back in the national team and wearing the ‘C’, thus saw his first shift of the game end unhappily.
However, Konovalov and his team-mates showed great character to put that blow behind them. Two goals from Ilya Mikheyev – the Avangard man’s first for the national team – put Ilya Vorobyov’s players in front by the 45th minute. His second marker was particularly impressive, stealing the puck on the blue line and powering into the zone to beat Veini Vehvilainen. Like Russia, Finland had gone for a youngster between the piping: together, Konovalov and Vehvilainen have just 41 years between them.
Having turned the game around, though, Russia faced a sting in the tale. With eight seconds left, Finland tied the scores through Mikko Lehtonen with an assist from Neftekhimik forward Joonas Nattinen. Russia had to go out and win it all over again, and the host finally prevailed after a marathon shoot-out. Dmitry Kagarlitsky potted the decisive effort, recording his third successful conversion from Russia’s 17 attempts. Konovalov, who had only faced one shoot-out previously this season, then blocked Juhani Tyrvainen’s shot to win the game. His performance even drew praise from goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak, who spoke of a bright future for Russia with such a promising young goalie in the ranks.
Ilya Konovalov, goaltender, Team Russia
We allowed a goal on the first shift, but we never gave up and we fought to the end. Giving up that early goal was nothing too serious – the important thing was not to let it distract me from playing my game. The team chose me as the best player from today’s game and presented me with the hat after the game. I’m looking forward to wearing it! It was nice to play here in Yaroslavl, the fans really got behind the team.
Ilya Vorobyov, head coach, Team Russia
We had a lot of new guys in the team. At the end of the third period we made an error but we’ve already sorted that out. I’m not going to wash our dirty linen in public. In any case, it’s good experience for the whole team.
I thought the new guys gave a good account of themselves. It’s all useful experience, whether good or bad, and we ended up with a Hollywood finale. You could see the fire in the players’ eyes, they worked so hard and that’s important.
Jukka Jalonen, head coach, Team Finland
Although we lost the game, I’m really happy with the way we played. We had a lot of young guys on that ice today and this was a big experience for them: 60 minutes of the game, overtime, a shoot-out. It’s new experience for them and it’s really good for our players.
In Thursday’s other game, former Metallurg forward Jan Kovar scored a hat-trick in the Czech Republic’s 5-2 win over Sweden. He also had an assist on an empty-net goal from Jiri Sekac (Ak Bars). Kovar, who left Magnitogorsk in the summer to try and earn a place at the Boston Bruins, returned home to play for HC Plzen and is available for the national team for the remainder of the season. Another two-time Gagarin Cup winner, Marek Kvapil, was also on the scoresheet while Torpedos’s Philip Holm, Metallurg’s Dennis Rasmussen and CSKA’s Klas Dahlback all picked up assists for Sweden. The result lifts Milos Riha’s team off the foot of the overall Euro Hockey Tour standings, one point ahead of the Swedes.