Andy Potts Andy Potts
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The Czech Republic secured top spot as tournament host in the final stage of the Euro Hockey Tour on a day that raised more questions about Russia’s goaltending options for the World Championship.

Czech Republic 4 Russia 0 (1-0, 2-0, 1-0)

Traktor’s Ivan Fedotov got the start for the Red Machine in Prague, after the previous games in the competition saw Alexander Samonov and Ivan Bocharov both allow four goals. However, Fedotov suffered as much as his colleagues and was pulled midway through the second period after the third Czech goal. Samonov took over for the remainder of the game and was beaten once more.

Photo: 15.05.21. Eurohockey tour 2020-2021. Czech Hockey Games. Czech Republic - Russia

There was a striking contrast at the other end, where Gagarin Cup winner Simon Hrubec produced a shut-out. The Avangard man stopped all of the shots as he staked a big claim to be his country’s #1 when the teams meet in the opening game of the Worlds in Riga on Friday.

However, this was not just a question of goaltending. Russia, defeated for the first time in this year’s Eurotour on Thursday, looked sluggish in the opening exchanges. The Czechs had the better of the first period and deservedly led thanks to Filip Zadina’s third goal of the tournament. However, there was controversy surrounding that incident, with the Russian bench unable to challenge the play due to the absence of cameras that could track a possible offside in the build-up.

If Valery Bragin was looking for a response in the second period, his hopes were dented almost immediately. The first meaningful Czech attack saw Jiri Sekac earn a penalty shot after a foul by Grigory Dronov. The Avangard forward duly converted the opportunity and doubled the home lead. However, Russia was playing better hockey and went on to dominate much of the middle frame. The visitor outshot the Czechs 16-9 in the session, but found the opposition in clinical form with the few chances it created. In the 32nd minute, it was 3-0. Jakub Flek, a player bidding for his first World Championship appearance, scored a breakaway goal to end Fedotov’s afternoon.

The third period saw another quick goal for the Czechs, this time from the familiar figure of Tomas Zohorna. The long-time Amur forward, who left Khabarovsk towards the end of last season to be with his wife at the birth of their first child, converted a rebound after Samonov made a smart save.

Russia finally got the puck in the net in the last second of play when Maxim Shalunov fired home. However, the goal was initially ruled out due to a foul on Hrubec by Yegor Yakovlev. The Russian bench challenged the call, hoping to reverse the penalty on the team captain, but once again there was no joy from the challenge. The video review supported the on-ice call and Bragin’s team found itself reduced to three skaters after receiving an additional ‘delaying the game’ penalty.

Despite two heavy losses in the last two games, Russia finishes this year’s Eurotour well ahead of the rest, collecting 27 points from 12 games (7 wins, 3 OT wins, two losses), eight points clear of the second-placed Czechs in the overall standings. The Czechs won all three games on home ice to take victory in the fourth and final stage of the competition and secure second place overall ahead of Sweden (15 points) and Finland (11).

Russia’s next action comes on Friday in Riga when Valery Bragin’s team begins its World Championship campaign with a revenge mission against the Czechs.

Valery Bragin, head coach, Russia

It was a good game from both sides, it was competitive, practically at the level of the World Championship in terms of fight and commitment. I’d say we didn’t play badly today, neither tactics nor effort let us down. But we were let down by our finishing, especially in the second period. Ten straight victories in the Eurotour is a good result. We’ve been systematically preparing for the World Championship, but now that preparation is over.

We’re keeping one spot on the roster open for a goalie and another for a forward. The NHL playoffs are just starting, so let’s see. Now we’re starting to assess who won’t make the team for Riga, we’ll know everything in a few minutes.

It’s too early to say about [Evgeny] Timkin, the puck hit him where he wasn’t protected. We hope it’s nothing serious but he is badly bruised. We’ve played [Mikhail] Grigorenko on the wing and in the center, and now it’s time to decide. He looked good at times, considering it was his first game after a week’s break. The first line had some good chances, so we’ll leave them alone for now. They created chances but couldn’t convert them.

Sweden 3 Finland 2 (1-0, 0-1, 2-1)

Sweden defeated its Nordic neighbor to secure third place in the overall Eurotour standings — and the decisive goal was an all KHL affair. With precisely one minute left on the clock, Mario Kempe and Oscar Lindberg combined to set up Dennis Rasmussen for the Swede’s third goal after Juho Olkinuora left his net in search of a tying goal.

However, that was not the end of the scoring: Finland hit back to reduce the deficit in the final second with Avangard’s Oliwer Kaski getting his second assist of the game on Jere Sallinen’s goal.

Earlier, Lindberg was among the helpers on Jesper Froden’s power play goal in the seventh minute as the Tre Kronor took the early initiative. Finland responded with a PP goal of its own at the start of the second, Kaski setting up Anton Lundell. However, Filip Hallander restored Sweden’s lead midway through the third as his team secured the bragging rights across the Gulf of Bothnia.

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