Andy Potts Andy Potts
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With a third win in three games, Russia’s young guns shot down all-comers in the opening phase of the Euro Hockey Tour. A 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic secured the Karjala Cup for Igor Larionov’s juniors. The Czechs finished second, while the evening game saw host nation Finland take on Sweden in a battle to avoid last place.

Askarov’s shut-out, Amirov’s record

Czech Republic 0 Russia 3 (0-1, 0-2, 0-0)

Russia wrapped up victory at the Karjala Cup when Igor Larionov’s youngsters defeated the Czechs in Sunday’s winner-takes-all showdown in Helsinki.

After all the furor about Russia’s decision to send a U20 roster to the first stage of the Euro Hockey Tour, the juniors produced a set of performances that fully justified their selection. Today’s win over the Czechs made it three out of three, with only Sweden threatening to snap that streak when the Tre Kronor took the Red Machine to a shoot-out on Saturday.

The weekend was a particular success for Salavat Yulaev prospect Rodion Amirov. The 19-year-old scored Russia’s opening goal in all three games at the tournament, becoming the first player in history to find the net in his first three appearances for the national team. Previously, three players — Alexander Popov, Roman Lyubimov and Pavel Poryadin — had scored on their first two international appearances. All three of them were rather older than Amirov when they got their first call-ups.

On Sunday, Amirov’s goal came at the end of the first period. Yegor Chinakhov fired in a shot from the right, Czech goalie Lukas Parik could only parry that effort and Amirov jumped on the rebound to make it 1-0 at the first intermission.

Chinakhov, another player to make a big impact on his first international call-up, then added a goal of his own early in the second. Ilya Safonov’s cross-ice pass swung play out to the right, where Chinakhov took the puck and beat Parik short side with a wrister. The Czechs’ problems weren’t helped by a couple of penalties and Russia extended its lead through Yegor Afanasyev midway through the game. This time, captain Vasily Podkolzin was the architect, surging down the right before dropping off a dish for the on-loan CSKA man to finish.

That was enough to kill the game, despite the Czechs picking up the pace as the game wore on. Moravcik came close when he hit the bar in the second period, but there was no way past Yaroslav Askarov as SKA’s young goalie claimed his first shut-out in international hockey.

It’s fair to mention that the Czechs, victors over Sweden and Finland in their first two games, also took the chance to look at some of their youngsters. The KHL trio of Andrej Nestrasil and the Zohorna brothers sat this game out and there was game time for David Irzicek (16) and Stanislav Svozil (17). Goalie Parik, aged 19, was also up against his immediate contemporaries in the Russian line-up.

Igor Larionov, head coach

I’m really happy with the team, both the quality and effectiveness of our play, and I’m sure the whole coaching staff would agree with me. It’s nice to see the guys playing good hockey; things didn’t always work out, we made mistakes, but they played well.

With the goalie situation, Nikolai Khabibulin is responsible for that. We discussed it with Yaroslav [Askarov], we wanted to be sure that he felt he could play all three games. He made it clear that he wanted to play, he put in good performances, so we let him get on with it.

Winning any game helps us to progress and helps the guys to develop, especially here. But there are loads of things that we saw where we can improve. This is just one step towards bringing the team together. Our biggest battles are still to come in December at the World Juniors. Now our players are going back to their clubs, back to their routines, battling for a place on their teams. In another month, they will have that bit of extra experience. We want to get everyone together in Novogorsk at the end of November and work on our game together.

We were all very happy that Askarov played so well, he was reliable every time. I really like the way Vasily Podkolzin captained the team, Semyon Chistyakov played smart, solid hockey. I’m happy for Amirov and Chinakhov and I thought I the guys played at a high level in this tournament.

Yaroslav Askarov, goalie

The hardest game for me was the first against Finland, because I had a long break before that. Today things already felt a bit easier, I’m getting back into shape and gaining momentum. To play at the Karjala Cup is a huge experience for a young player. And it turned out that we won all three games and lifted the cup; victories like this are an inspiration.

Every coach is different. Igor Nikolaevich works more on the ice and I have to say that everything is great. The team plays, and plays well. The atmosphere in the team is just perfect, no raised voices, everyone encourages each other and positivity flows from everyone.

Finnish fightback sinks Sweden

Finland 3 Sweden 2 (0-0, 1-2, 2-0)

In the battle to escape the basement, Finland did it the hard way. The tournament host, winless in its first two games, fell two goals behind before rallying to beat Sweden on a late power play goal.

The Swedes came into the game a point ahead of their neighbors thanks to their shoot-out loss against Russia on Saturday. But both teams knew that only victory would do in the latest instalment of this Baltic rivalry.

After a goalless first period, Sweden opened a 2-0 lead at the start of the second. Max Friberg got the first and, 43 seconds later, a power play goal from Leon Bristedt put the visitor in a strong position. For Finland, the long road back started in the 35th minute when Aleksi Saarela halved the deficit. Jere Sallinen, who played two KHL seasons with Jokerit, was among the assists.

Midway through the third period, Vili Saarijarvi tied the scores, with ex-Sibir forward Jukka Peltola getting a helper. Then, a penalty on Niklas Hansen with three minutes to play give the Finns a chance to snatch victory. Defenseman Valtteri Kemilainen stepped up with the power play goal to complete the recovery and consign Sweden to fourth place.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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