Team ROC 2 Sweden 1 SO (0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 0-0, 1-0)
Alexei Zhamnov’s team had to battle its way past a strong Swedish opponent but got through to face Finland in Sunday’s gold-medal game. Sweden goes on to play Slovakia in Saturday’s battle for bronze.
After 70 minutes of action finished deadlocked at 1-1, and the shoot-out went into its eighth round, it all came down to the 20-year-old Gritsyuk. The Avangard forward rose to the occasion magnificently, showing no hint of nerves as he picked his spot and placed a rising shot in off the post to spark jubilation on the Russian bench. Four years ago, Kirill Kaprizov announced himself to the world on a golden Olympic roster; now, could another young star be poised to emulate him?
Gritsyuk himself clearly does not lack for confidence. “I love penalty shots, I take a lot of them,” he added. “I treat it like a one-on-one game, just me and the goalie. One of us wins, one of us loses.”
But he added that this one was bigger than most — and not just because of the occasion.
“I was to blame for the first goal, I lost the puck in their zone and then lost their player behind me,” said Gritsyuk. “In my heart, I felt like my mistake had hurt the whole team and I really wanted to put it right. I’m happy that Vanya Fedotov played so well and got us to the shoot-out.
“When it came to my turn, I went out and knew straight away what I was going to do — and you saw the result. If you keep turning over your shots in your thoughts, you can lose your head.”
Before the game, much of the talk was about the battle between CSKA’s Ivan Fedotov and Lucas Wallmark. The Swedish forward had five goals from four games here and had solved every goalie he faced. Until today. ROC defended him well, and Fedotov produced another impressive performance in net to deny his team-mate, whose shoot-out tally was not enough to put Sweden through.
“It was a tight game but I still think there were some scoring chances there,” Wallmark reflected. “It was two good teams and it sucks to lose it like that.
“I think both teams were playing their own systems and didn’t give up that many chances, but we had a couple and a chance to win the game and when there aren’t many, you have to take advantage of them.”
Clear cut chances were hard to come by for both teams. Sweden looked to reprise its successful tactics from its 2-0 win over Canada in the quarter-final and the first period was something of an arm-wrestle as both teams fought to establish themselves in the game. Team ROC ended that session strongly, and carried it on into the second to open the scoring after 15 seconds. Anton Slepyshev was the scorer, bursting down the left and beating Lars Johansson up close.
But in a tight battle, Sweden tied the scores early in the third when Anton Lander pounced on a rebound to score from close range. That dragged the game into overtime, and ROC was indebted to a fine poke check from Vladimir Tkachyov to deny Mathieu Brome a clear shot at an open goal. Then came the shoot-out, and Gritsyuk’s big moment.
The win sparked jubilant scenes on the Russian bench, but now the focus shifts swiftly to Sunday and the chance to win back-to-back gold.
Nikita Nesterov, part of the 2018 roster, is looking forward to doing it all again.
“It feels great. It was a good game and we’re happy,” he said “We played our game. I wouldn’t say we are just a defensive team. We play aggressive but we need to score more. Every game we’ve played better and we hope our best game will be the final.”