Finland 2 Russia 6 (0-3, 1-2, 1-1)
Russia’s youngsters made a flying start at the Karjala Cup, jumping to a 3-0 first period lead over Finland and silencing the Red Machine’s critics.
Prior to the game, there was much discussion of Russia’s decision to send a U20 roster to this adult tournament. The move was partly motivated by the recent illness of national team head coach Valery Bragin, and partly inspired by the need to give the juniors a chance to play together ahead of their World Championship in Canada. The traditional fall games against North American opposition cannot take place this year due to the COVID situation, so this was the only opportunity for Igor Larionov to see his charges in action before the big tournament starts on Dec. 25.
But it took barely 100 seconds for the young Russians to prove their worth. That was how long it took Salavat Yulaev’s rising star Rodion Amirov to zoom into the Finnish zone, beat Mikael Seppala and wires a wrister into the top corner. Amirov, 19, is one of four first round picks from this season’s NHL draft available to Larionov and he almost potted a repeat of that goal midway through the first. But a minute later, Marat Khusutdinov doubled the Russian lead with a fine individual effort of his own. A third goal soon followed, with SKA’s Vasily Podkolzin storming into Finnish territory and sliding a pass to the net for Ak Bars’ Ilya Safonov to score with a one-timer.
Elmeri Eronen pulled one back for Finland at the start of the second, assisted by former Sibir forward Jukka Peltola. But Russia rolled relentlessly on. Late in the middle frame, Daniil Chaika rifled home an effort from the blue line to make it 4-1, then Yegor Chinakhov’s breakthrough season continued with his first goal in international play. The Avangard forward, who only made his KHL debut in September, showed great technique to beat Oskari Setanen in the home net.
The Finns threatened to rally with an early goal in the third, but Jere Sallinen, once of Jokerit, was merely delaying the inevitable. Russia had the final say with Yegor Afanasyev making it 6-2, putting a wrister over Setanen’s glove midway through the third. Remarkably, Afanasyev is still awaiting his KHL debut. A Predators prospect in the NHL, the 19-year-old is on loan with CSKA but since returning to Russia has started with a couple of games in the Army Club’s juniors.
Igor Larionov, head coach
“The guys really came together quickly, we scored some good goals and showed real Russian character to get an assured victory. We tried to put the emphasis on our team. Obviously, a score like that is always nice but I don’t think today was a surprise. There were lots of positives. We played well on defense, the guys showed their character. We have players who can be real leaders.
“We want to keep playing attacking hockey, dominating games. It doesn’t matter how old the guys are, or how much experience they have. We found the right way to do it. The big thing was that they understood what they had to do.”
Vasily Podkolzin, forward
“Before the game we weren’t really thinking about how we would play. We wanted to show what we could do, that was all. Half of the second period was hard work for us, but we all played for each other.”
Rodion Amirov, forward
“It’s a great feeling. We started the game well and got three goals, but we didn’t stop there. Everyone kept working to get that win. The biggest thing was not to listening to what everyone else was saying [about us]. We just needed to show that we deserved the faith people had in us. We have two more games to come so we have to look past this one.
“I can’t compare Finland with any KHL team, the whole thing is different. There weren’t any nerves, many a bit of a worry but that disappeared when we got on the ice. The coaches told us to start aggressively and I think we did that. Of course, we didn’t expect such a big win. After all, the Finns had a men’s team out there. But everyone worked hard and the guys on our team are used to playing against men in the KHL and VHL. That helped a lot.”
Czech Republic 3 Sweden 1 (2-0, 1-0, 0-1)
This game, originally due to be played in the Czech Republic, was moved to Helsinki due to the current coronavirus restrictions in Central Europe. However, the loss of home advantage did not upset the Czechs as they began the tournament with a win.
Two power play goals in the first period set the tone. First, Amur’s Hynek Zohorna and Metallurg’s Andrej Nestrasil combined for Filip Hronek, a rising star on the Red Wings’ blue line, to open the scoring in the 17th minute. A couple of minutes later, the same trio combined again with Zohorna getting the goal.
Jakub Galvas added a third in the middle frame before the Tre Kronor got a consolation tally through Max Friberg early in the final stanza. The Czechs got the win in the first game under new head coach Filip Pesan, who took over behind the bench after the death of Milos Riha during the summer. He was delighted with the role his special teams played in shaping the team’s power play tactics. “It’s a pleasure to work with players who think for themselves and inspire the coaches,” he told hokej.cz. “The boys had some ideas about the power play, they came to see Martin [Straka, assistant coach] and me. We talked about it, we tried some things in practice then they made it work during the game.”
Zohorna, meanwhile, hinted at one of the secrets of the power play’s prowess. “We have two alternatives at the face-off,” he said. “You could see one today, and we scored after nine seconds of the power play. Either Filip Hronek or Jakub Galvas goes there and that always opens up a player — either a defenseman, or the center. This time, Hrona hit it nicely, the play worked really well.”