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Alexei Kudashov’s first game as head coach of Team Russia ended in a narrow loss to World Champion Finland at the start of this year’s Euro Hockey Tour. The teams met in Helsinki in the first game of the Karjala Cup, with the host getting the verdict by the odd goal in seven.

Kudashov’s first roster featured several new faces: this year’s Euro Tour is set to be an experimental process for Russia, with the national team running the rule over a range of new talents. From goalie Ivan Bocharov (Dynamo Moscow) to defenseman Damir Sharipzyanov (Neftekhimik) there was no shortage of debutants on the Russian team.

Photo: 07.11.19. Eurohockey tour 2019-2020. Karjala Cup. Russia - Finland

Initially, the new-look line-up did well. The first period saw Russia have the edge and the opening goal came when captain Anton Burdasov released Sharipzyanov for his first international goal midway through the frame.

But Finland, which began the evening by hoisting the World Championship banner claimed in Bratislava back in May, fought back in the middle frame. A power play goal from Harri Pesonen tied the scores, then Jokerit’s Sakari Manninen converted a penalty shot to give the Finns the lead. Although Russia was still having the better of the game, the home team was proving an obdurate opponent once again.

Lokomotiv defenseman Rushan Rafikov caught the eye. The 24-year-old has previously featured in Euro Tour action but has not been involved in a World Championship before. Today, though, he scored twice as Russia rallied to lead 3-2 early in the final frame and suggested that he might be in contention for a bigger role on the Red Machine this season. Sadly for him, it wasn’t enough to secure a win. Miro Aaltonen tied it up on the power play before Pesonen’s second of the night gave the Finns the win.

Alexei Kudashov, head coach, Russia:

We were let down by some soft penalties. Clearly, we need to improve the special teams. The next issue is taking chances. We created enough opportunities to win today’s game. The young guys worked hard, there were plenty of positives from the game. Maybe some of our debutants were a bit nervous but overall the game was OK.

Anton Burdasov, captain, Russia:

We worked hard, but we didn’t do enough in front of their net. We’ll put that right and I don’t think there was much wrong with our game. It felt like we completely outplayed them, but in the end we lost out. It was great to see our defensemen joining the attack when the opposition were getting tired. It makes things easier for us forwards, it opens up all sorts of different combinations. I think that’s the modern way to play hockey.

Rushan Rafikov, defenseman, Russia:

The Finns scored two power play goals and we only got one. That was the difference between the teams. At equal strength there wasn’t much between us. I think nerves played a part at times, we should never have taken some of the penalties that we had.

Czechs beat Sweden

Dynamo forward Dmitrij Jaskin was on target for the Czech Republic in a 3-1 victory over Sweden and former Metallurg man Jan Kovar got the game-winner with a power play effort in the second period. Kovar was assisted by current Magnitka forward Andrej Nestrasil, who also had a helper on Michal Repik’s empty net goal. Ak Bars defenseman Mikael Wikstrand got the Swedish goal.

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