Captain Vasili Podkolzin (second from left) was Russia’s offensive leader in the 7-1 win over Austria at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta

By Lucas Aykroyd –

Russia erupted for four first-period goals and defeated winless Austria 7-1 on Tuesday night in Edmonton. Russian captain Vasili Podkolzin set the tone, breaking his offensive drought with two goals and an assist.

“He’s a great leader on and off the ice,” said defenceman Artemi Knyazev, who had a goal and an assist. “He pushed us in the locker room and led by example on the ice. He did a good job.”

Both teams used their backup goalies, with Russia’s Artur Akhtyamov and Austria’s Jakob Brandner getting their first tournament starts. Russia outshot Austria 50-18.

With six points in three games, Russia remains in contention for top spot in Group B and will close out the preliminary round against Sweden on Wednesday.

“We’ll be playing against one of the best teams in the world,” said Russian coach Igor Larionov. “We respect their skill level and their success. We’re hoping to have a great game, compete, and play our best. Hopefully it’s going to be an entertaining game and end up in a good result for us.”

Coach Roger Bader’s newly promoted Austrians must upset the Czech Republic on New Year’s Eve in order to make the quarter-finals.

“”The Czech Republic is a great ice hockey nation,” said Bader. “They have a strong team. We see this team every day in practice, so we know how strong they are. They have a lot of big defencemen. I think four or five are NHL draft picks, so that’s why they are defensively so good. But in one game, everything can happen, and that’s what we want to do.”

Larionov’s highly skilled troops bounced back quickly from their 2-0 loss to the Czechs.

“The boys did well and scored some goals,” Larionov said. “The guys who are supposed to be scoring finally got their names on the board, and that’s the good side.”

At 4:04, Austrian blueliner Jakob Pfeffer hauled down Yegor Chinakhov on a break and a penalty shot was awarded. Rodion Amirov took the attempt since Chinakhov had left the ice in discomfort and did not return. Amirov made no mistake, deking to the forehand and firing the puck past Brandner’s right pad.

Larionov said he was awaiting a doctor’s report on Chinakhov, but at present, the forward was doubtful for the game against Sweden.

Amirov is comfortable with penalty shots. At the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Sweden, he used the same move to score the 3-2 semi-final shootout winner on the U.S.’s Spencer Knight. More recently, the Salavat Yulayev Ufa forward had three goals in three games when Russia’s U20 team overcame the Finnish, Swedish, and Czech men’s national teams to win the Karjala Cup in November. 

“He’s a great shooter,” said Knyazev. “He scores a lot of goals in the KHL as well.”

Podkolzin made it 2-0 at 6:11 with his first goal of these World Juniors, snapping the puck high to the short side. The 19-year-old power forward, a 2019 first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks (10th overall), is competing in his third World Juniors after winning bronze in 2019 and silver in 2020.

Podkolzin was just getting started. With the Russians forechecking in the Austrian zone, the SKA St. Petersburg attacker moved to the front of the net, took a Knazyev pass from the blue line, and pivoted to slide a forehander in at 13:44 for a 3-0 lead.

At 16:19, Podkolzin unleashed a heavy wrist shot on the rush and the puck squeezed through Brandner’s pads. Marat Khusnutdinov, with his first tournament goal, reached out to push it over the goal line before the Austrians could sweep it away.

In the second period, Senna Peeters gave Austrian fans something to cheer about when he got the team’s first goal of the World Juniors at 7:38. Breaking hard to the net, the Rogle Angelholm attacker lifted the stick of Vasili Ponomaryov to accept a nice pass from 16-year-old Marco Kasper and put the puck over Akhtyamov’s glove.

“I think we skated way better than the last two games,” said Kasper. “The Russians were really tough and powerful, and we all obviously knew that they were going to be a tough opponent. But still, I think we played better and had more scoring chances than the last two games. It was a better game.”

Peeters teamed up with Kasper for another good chance on the backhand in the last minute of the second period. Despite Austria’s valiant refusal to quit, there would be no magical comeback.

At 1:46 of the third period, Knazyev made it 5-1 on the power play with an accurate centre-point wrister that eluded the goalie, with Khusnutdinov providing the screen. It was Russia’s first power-play goal of this tournament on its sixth opportunity.

With a Roberto Luongo-style glove save, Brandner robbed Amirov on another Russian man advantage with about 10 minutes to go. However, Yegor Afanasiev batted in a rebound out of mid-air with 2:16 left. Arseni Gritsyuk sent a howitzer bar in with 1:31 remaining to round out the scoring at 7-1.

Larionov said defenceman Danil Chaika, who sat out, would return against Sweden: “We expect a huge game tomorrow, and he’s going to be playing like massive minutes, and you know he needs some rest.”

Austria, which also competed at the top level in 1984, 2004, and 2010, has lost 19 World Junior games all-time, with one tie in 2004.