Date: August 28, 2017

Young Russians make their case

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Going into the final day of the competition, Filip Pesan’s Czech Republic team had a perfect record after wins over Sweden and Finland; Russia was a point behind after requiring overtime to subdue the Swedes. With everything to play for, the teams served up a classic encounter: both teams held the lead, the Czechs clawed back a two-goal deficit on a 5-on-3 power play and then snatched a late tying goal when Filip Zadina (Halifax Mooseheads) made it 5-5 after goalie Adam Brizgala was pulled with 90 seconds remaining. But the Russians kept their heads and Mikhail Maltsev (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg) fired a backhand shot into the top corner to deliver an overtime winner for Valeri Bragin’s youngsters.

That victory was enough to match the Czechs’ seven-point tally, with the head-to-head victory on the final day in Vierumaki proving decisive.

For head coach Bragin, the key thing was the competitive spirit of the entire tournament, especially as he begins to finalize his World Championship roster.

“We played some really useful games,” he said. “We need to look closely at the candidates for the World Juniors because there’s only our November series in Canada to play before the championship. Therefore, the tougher the games, the better is it for the coaching staff: we can see what these players are made of.”

All of Russia’s games were tight. Against Sweden, despite a dream start with two goals in 33 seconds, Tre Kronor fought back to tie the scores with two power play goals. Then, against Finland, the pressure was on from the start as the hosts took a first-period lead through Roni Allen (JYP); Dynamo Moscow prospect Yegor Zaitsev snatched a late 2-1 victory with a power play goal on 57:14.

The need to assess potential players for Buffalo prompted Bragin to call up an experimental roster. Of the 22 youngsters who travelled to Finland, only Grigori Dronov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) featured in last year’s U20 national team at the IIHF World Junior Championship and none were involved in the U18 bronze medal-winning roster from 2017. There were also no call-ups for any Russian players based in North America.

Russia’s leading scorer in the tournament was Artyom Manukyan, who plays his hockey within the Avangard organisation in Omsk. The 19-year-old is only just making an impact on the international scene, having never featured in Russia’s teams at the U18 Worlds. However, he’s been earmarked as a man with a bright future after a record-breaking season in the MHL, the KHL’s junior league, last season. Manukyan rattled up 105 points in 60 games, with 39 goals and 66 assists. And all that was on a team that failed to make the playoffs. In Finland, he scored three in three, including the overtime winner in the opening game against Sweden, and added an assist to join a three-way tie with Czech duo Martin Kaut (Dynamo Pardubice) and Ostap Safin (Sparta Prague) on top of the scoring charts.

Finland, beaten in its first two games, restored some pride on Saturday with a resounding 6-1 win over Sweden, despite trailing 0-1 at the first intermission. The Finns scored three in each of the remaining sessions, and finished the competition with eight different goal scorers. The Swedes finished bottom of the table, picking up a solitary point from that overtime loss against Russia on the opening day.

Four Nations Tournament in Finland
24 Aug.   Vierumaki (FIN)   Sweden   Russia 2-3 OT
24 Aug.   Lahti (FIN)   Finland   Czech Rep. 1-3
25 Aug.   Vierumaki (FIN)   Czech Rep.   Sweden 4-2
25 Aug.   Lahti (FIN)   Finland   Russia 1-2
26 Aug.   Vierumaki (FIN)   Russia   Czech Rep. 6-5 OT
26 Aug.   Lahti (FIN)   Finland   Sweden 6-1
Standings: 1. Russia 7, 2. Czech Rep. 7, 3. Finland 3, 4. Sweden 1

Finland dominates 4 Nations

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By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Finland’s national women’s team picked up right where it left off, winning all three games at a 4 Nations event in Sweden this weekend.

Finland, Germany, Russia and Sweden and all played three games in three nights in an event intended to give their respective coaches a sense of where their rosters stand heading into this critical Olympic season.

The European nations aren’t centralizing the way Canada and the United States are, so every chance they have to play games and assess talent is all the more important before PyeongChang in February 2018.

All games but one followed a familiar pattern which saw the team that scored first go on to win the game. The lone exception was the final game of the weekend, a narrow 3-2 win for Sweden over Russia.

Russia jumped into a 2-0 lead early in the second on goals from veterans Olga Sosina and Yelena Dergachyova, but the home side fought back with two power-play goals. Annie Svedin got the first and Emmy Alasalmi got the equalizer midway though the third. Johanna Olofsson then scored the winner with less than two minutes to go.

Recall that the Finns beat Canada, put a scare into the U.S., and won an impressive bronze at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, USA this past April. The team in Eskilstuna was similar in make-up to the April roster, including goalie Noora Raty and captain Jenni Hiirikoski.

Sweden finished with two wins and a loss while Russia had one win. The tournament was an eye-opener for the Germans, who lost all three games. Under the enthusiasm of coach Benjamin Hinterstocker, the team finished an impressive fourth in Plymouth, winning three of its first four games and providing a welcome breath of fresh air all tournament.

But they are no longer a surprise, and it’s clear Hinterstocker has his work cut out for him if the team is going to perform equally well in Korea. Indeed, the team scored but one goal in three games in Eskilstuna, that by 16-year-old defender Franziska Brendel in a 3-1 loss to Russia.

More telling were shots on goal. The Germans were outshot 45-8 by Sweden, 39-16 by Russia, and 54-9 by Finland. To get 33 shots in three games will not be enough at the Olympics, but at least the Germans know where they stand and what work lies ahead.

The Germans were also the youngest team, with an average age of just 20.9. Again, this is both a strength and weakness, their future looking great but their inexperience a fault for the immediate future.

Three of the top-four scorers in the tournament were Finns. Michelle Karvinen had two goals and six points to lead all players and Riikka Valila and Hiirikoski had four points, as did Russian forward Olga Sosina. Sosina and Susanna Tapani of Finland were the only players to score three goals.

Sweden’s only loss was to Finland, 4-0, but it continues to feature a young roster that seems to be improving with every outing. Many of its senior players have two or more years of play at the U18 level on their resume and might well be ready to come into their own this season, namely Lisa Johansson, Sara Hjalmarsson, and the aforementioned Alasalmi.

Sweden’s Damkronorna some weeks earlier played two exhibition games at one of the Olympic venues in Gangneung and beat host Korea 3-0 and 4-1.