Czech Rep. 1 Russia 4 (1-1, 0-2, 0-1)
Expectations around Team Russia are always high. This weekend, with a roster stacked with NHL talent ahead of the World Championship, they were higher than usual. The phrase ‘dream team’ had been used to describe a line-up featuring 14 NHLers but defeats against Sweden (4-6) and Finland (1-3) had the feel of an unfolding nightmare. After assembling the talents of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin and this regular season’s leading NHL scorer Nikita Kucherov, Russia was taking time to get its game together.
Against the Czechs, though, it came right. Ovechkin, partnered with his Capitals team-mate Evgeny Kuznetsov and CSKA’s Gagarin Cup winner Kirill Kaprizov, contributed two assists, including a powerful piece of play to set up Kaprizov for the opening goal. Kuznetsov finished with 2+1 and the third Washington Capital on the team, Dmitry Orlov, also chipped in with a goal. The loan Czech reply came from Michal Repik, who played last season with Slovan and Vityaz.
Kaprizov’s goal opened the scoring midway through the first period. The play began with Ovechkin, out on the boards, shrugging off an attempted hit from Jakub Jerabek (who recently agreed a return to Vityaz for next season) and feeding the CSKA youngster for a masterful finish on Avtomobilist’s Jakub Kovar. Repik tied the scores a few minutes later, beating Salavat Yulaev alumnus Andrei Vasilevsky in the Russian net.
In the second period, Russia began to impose itself on the game. A penalty on Kuznetsov was killed and as the forward returned to the ice, he immediately collected a pass from Artyom Anisimov and raced away to restore Russia’s lead. The former Traktor man then created a third goal, bamboozling the Czech defense with his close control under pressure before producing a pass out of nothing to slice through the back line and set up Orlov at the back door. The final frame saw Russia do a thoroughly professional job of seeing out the win, with Kuznetsov’s line combining to add an empty-net goal.
Russia and the Czechs will meet again in Bratislava on May 13 during the group phase of the World Championship.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, forward, team Russia
Before, I think the Czechs were more combative in their approach, today they played more hockey. I’m more than sure that both countries will have lots of fans in Bratislava and there will be a great atmosphere.
We didn’t get everything right but this was a really important game for us ahead of the World Championship. The two previous games did not go well, especially against Finland. There was a lot of expectation and we didn’t live up to that. Today for more than half the game we did what the coaches asked of us and that was the most important thing.
Ilya Vorobyov, head coach, Russia
We were searching for the right combinations and I think today’s partnerships turned out OK. We came to this line-up through the ideas we had previously looked at. Even after yesterday’s game we were still sitting and assessing what we could do.
We still need to think about our final roster but we have a basic idea of what we want. We’ll go through each candidate in turn before we come to a collective decision. We have an idea but we’ll have further conversations among the coaching staff. Everybody brings something unique to the table so we have to consider everything. We have many attacking players, there’s great potential there and that’s something we lacked last year.
Team Russia was not the only organization to draw heavily on KHL talent in the final phase of the Euro Hockey Tour. Finland’s Sakari Manninen and Sweden’s Anton Lander were among the leading scorers in the tournament, both collecting three points in the Czech Hockey Games. In Sunday’s early game, Veli-Matti Savinainen, who recently secured a move from Kunlun Red Star to Jokerit, opened the scoring only for Metallurg’s Dennis Rasmussen to tie the game.