Russia 2 Finland 0 (1-0, 0-0, 1-0)
Slepyshev struck early and late to win this game for Alexei Kudashov’s team, which finishes with two victories from three games at the Channel 1 Cup. The CSKA forward converted the first power play of the game, applying the redirect as Vadim Shipachyov got the puck to the slot. And he finished the game off after 58 minutes when he intercepted the puck on his own blue and hared down the right-hand channel to beat Frans Tuohimaa in the Finnish net.
In between, Finland repeated its familiar trick of squeezing Russia’s offense out of the game as much as possible but, on this occasion, was unable to find a way past Sorokin. And so, not for the first time, a Russian victory had its roots in the productive hockey school of Novokuznetsk: both Slepyshev and Sorokin, now clubmates at CSKA, made their KHL debuts with Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
This was the second year in a row that Russia and Finland met in St. Petersburg’s world class soccer stadium. The attendance this time, 67,877, did not top the record 71,000 crowd seen last season. However, it once again highlights ever-growing appetite for hockey among Russian fans, something likely to be demonstrated once again next week when Kudashov’s SKA entertains CSKA – Sorokin, Slepyshev et al – in a KHL Winter Classic on Thursday.
Alexei Kudashov, head coach, Russia:
I’d like to thank our fans first of all. They came here in such numbers to support us. Thanks also to the organizers for creating such a festival of hockey. And, of course, thanks to the team for playing well. Winning was the most important thing for us today. As for the game, it was like we expected – a hard-fought battle. Games with Finland are always like that. We played better on defense and we took our chances. Having said that, in the second period we had opportunities to put the game to bed and we didn’t do that. We should have finished off Finland and played out the third period calmly.
Ilya Sorokin, goalie, Russia:
It felt good today, we managed to play our game. Sure, there are plenty of things we still need to look at, and it’s a pity we couldn’t win the tournament. But playing here was a great experience. I just had to concentrate on the game, because if I started thinking about 70,000 pairs of eyes watching me, that wouldn’t help. So I tried to stay focussed on the puck.
We changed our game a little bit and tried to close down the slot. We didn’t allow many shots from there today. That’s the most dangerous place on the ice and we took too many goals there in the two previous games. That was our big change and for me this was a good game. I wasn’t left as a spectator, but I didn’t have to make big saves either. Just the right balance.
Anton Slepyshev, forward, Russia:
It was a tough game. We were playing back-to-back so not everything worked out for us. At times they got on top of us but we held on and got the win. That second period against the Swedes cost us in this tournament, that’s why we finished in second place. If we had started that game better I think we were strong enough to win all three games here. We’ll learn from that.
I always expect myself to score goals. I try to score in every game so of course it’s great to get a couple here. Big thanks to my team-mates, they helped me a lot. The atmosphere in the arena was great, just fantastic. It’s good for hockey, and for the city. God willing we’ll be back every year.
Czech Republic 1 Sweden 3 (0-0, 0-2, 1-1)
Sweden picked up its second victory of the Channel 1 Cup in the remaining game in Moscow. Two goals from Metallurg’s Dennis Rasmussen paced a 3-1 win over the Czechs and left his country hoping for a Russian victory in the Winter Classic in St. Petersburg to secure the trophy for the Tre Kronor.
After a goalless first period, Rasmussen broke the deadlock at the start of the second. Sochi’s Malte Stromwall extended the lead with a power play effort in the 27th minute and it stayed that way until the second intermission.
Hynek Zohorna pulled a goal back for the Czechs on the power play midway through the third period but Rasmussen put his second of the afternoon into an empty net to secure the win. After winning the Karjala Cup in impressive fashion last month, the Czechs lost two games out of three here, with only an overtime success against Finland to celebrate.