HOCKEY: Juniors Preview, USA vs. Russia 1PM ET

United States center Auston Matthews (# 34) scores the second of his three goals in the lopsided 7-0 victory over the hapless Czech Republic in the quarterfinal round of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland ... photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF - IIHF Images

United States center Auston Matthews (# 34) scores the second of his three goals in the lopsided 7-0 victory over the hapless Czech Republic in the quarterfinal round of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland … photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF – IIHF Images

 

der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, Pa

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Despite the presence of 18-year-old sensation Auston Matthews of Swiss club SC Zurich on the American squad, the history books say that the United States just very well might still need yet another Miracle On Ice to defeat traditional arch-nemesis Russia in the semifinals of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships being held in the Finnish capital city of Helsinki.

No, ever since the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (which occurred right in the middle of the 1992 WJC), the Russians do not absolute dominate United States junior national teams at the planet’s premier ice hockey tournament for players under 20 years of age quite the same way the Soviets did back in the day. For the benefit of the younger generation, it should be remembered that the USSR (and the ’92 squad which the completed that WJC under the banner of the short-lived Commonwealth of Independent States) won 12 of the 13 games ever played against the eternal class enemy USA at the annual affair for U-20s. Russia, by comparison, has ‘only’ managed to defeat the Americans in eight of the thirteen WJC games played between the two rival nations since 1993.
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The thing is, though, that United States has never, ever beaten the always skillful Russians while competing in the pressure cauldron that is the knockout round at the annual WJC. In fact, it has been pesky Russia who have upended unlucky USA at the quarterfinal stage in each of the last two WJC tournaments, winning 3-2 in Montreal, Canada, last winter as well as 5-3 in Malmo, Sweden, two years ago. And, in the past, the Russians have also skated away from the Americans 5-1 in the semifinals of the 2006 WJC in Vancouver, Canada, and stomped Uncle Sam’s squad 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the 2002 WJC in Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.
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Ever since the end of the Second World War, the sport of ice hockey has grown in popularity at an increasingly steady rate to the point where it has replaced soccer and is now reputed to be THE most popular of all athletic disciplines, according to a recent national survey of the Russian people. themselves. The Russian sporting public care very much about the state of the national team (and, of course, the junior nationals, too) and the country, as a whole, is extremely proud of its ice hockey history and tradition of excellence. One can be certain that the players on head coach Valery Bragin’s junior national team in Helsinki this winter are well aware that Mother Russia have won some kind of medal from 10 of the last 11 WJC tournaments and that people back home have certain expectations.
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(Note to Kram – don’t be surprised to see Russian leader Vladimir Putin turn up at the rink in Finland to watch the action live and in person; Putin, an avid ice hockey enthusiast and supporter, has been known to show up at medal round games for the senior and junior national teams and Helsinki is really only about an hour and a half’s plane ride from Moscow)
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(Note to d.E. and Mr. Putin:  Shirt and shoes are required at most hockey venues… 😉   –Kram
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Meanwhile, as far as “miracles” go, the history books also say that the United States does have the right man behind the bench going into this WJC quarterfinal clash with the formidable Russians. If the Americans had mastermind Herb Brooks at Lake Placid in 1980, then this particular U.S. junior national team in Scandinavia has wily veteran head coach Ron Wilson, the highly experienced former National Hockey League player and coach who, among other things, led the United States senior national team to the title at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. The simple fact of the matter is that the 60-year-old mentor has a career record of three wins and zero losses when guiding the USA in knockout games against Russia at major international tournaments.
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With Wilson in charge, the United States has defeated Russia 3-1 in the quarterfinals of the 1994 IIHF World Championships, 5-2 in the semifinals of the ’96 WCH and 5-3 in the semifinals of the 2004 WCH.
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It is also true that the Americans have a few other things going for them against the Russians, not the least of which is the superstar in training Matthews. The native of Scottsdale, Arizona, who has done nothing at this WJC in Helsinki to dispel the widespread belief that it is he who will be the first overall player chosen at the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft this summer, is on the verge of getting his name in the history books for the United States. The explosive Matthews, who had a hat trick in the 7-0 romp over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, has now scored no less than seven goals in five games for the U.S. squad at this 2016 WJC so far and is within one strike of tying the all-time American record at one individual tournament, which is held by Jeremy Roenick, who netted eight goals in seven games for the United States at the 1989 WJC.
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(Hershey Bears star Chris Bourque, who lit the lamp seven times for the USA at the 2006 WJC, is currently tied with Matthews and three other players for second place on the all-time American chart for goals at one WJC tournament)
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The United States also have Alex Nedeljkovic, who, according the tournament’s official save percentage statistics, is the very best goaltender at this 2016 WJC in Finland. The 19-year-old native of Parma, Ohio, who was the 2nd round pick (# 37 overall) of the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2014 NHL Draft, has blocked 82 of 86 shots faced in four appearances for the Americans in Helsinki and his .9535 save percentage is slightly higher than that of Sweden’s Linus Soderstrom (.9519), if only just. Nedeljkovic has proved himself to be a cut above Russia first string netminder Alexander Georgiev, the undrafted 19-year-old who plays in the Finnish elite league for TPS Turku.
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Georgiev (4 ga, 2.17 avg, .909 svpct) has been somewhat of a surprise starter over 18-year-old Ilya Samsonov of Kontinental Hockey League club Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the 1st round pick (# 22 overall) of the Washington Capitals at the 2015 NHL Draft this past summer but the Finnish legionnaire was not so sharp in the 6-4 round robin victory over Finland and downright leaky against lightweight Denmark at the quarterfinal stage during the dramatic and tense, come-from-behind triumph in overtime.
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Vladimir Kamenev (5 ga, 4 go, 5 pts) of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, the 19-year-old who was the 2nd round pick (# 42 overall) of the Nashville Predators at the 2014 NHL Draft, rescued the Russians by scoring the equalizer against the Danes with just 44 seconds remaining in regulation and then booked irrepressible Russia’s place in the medal round by notching the game-winner five minutes into extra time. Kamenev has been centering Evgeny Svechnikov and undrafted Maxim Lazarev (two goals) on what has been the defending silver medalists’ top scoring line. The Russians are still waiting for the 19-year-old Svechnikov, who was the 1st round pick (# 19 overall) of the Detroit Red Wings at the 2015 NHL Draft last summer, to put the puck in the back of the net, though.
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Ivan Provorov (5 ga, 0 go, 6 as), the 18-year-old defenseman who was the 1st round pick (# 7 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft, is the joint top scoring leader for Russia at the 2016 WJC along with Igor Korshkov (5 ga, 1 go, 6 pts), the undrafted 19-year-old from KHL club Torpedo Yaroslavl.
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Radel Fazleev (5 ga, 1 go, 2 as), the 19-year-old who was the 6th round pick (# 168 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2014 NHL Draft, has been centering undrafted 19-year-old Artur Lauta (three goals) of KHL club Avangard Omsk along with Alexander Dergachyov of powerful KHL side SKA St. Petersburg, the 19-year-old who was the 3rd round pick (# 74 overall) of the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 NHL Draft; Dergachyov, the only other WJC veteran aside from Kamenev and Provorov on this Russian squad in Helsinki, is another prominent prospect who has yet to score a goal at this tournament.
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The United States have five skaters, including Matthews and Sonny Milano (5 ga, 1 go, 6 pts) of the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, who were on the team that lost to Russia in the WJC quarterfinals last winter and surely will be seeking revenge this year.
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Russia vs United States
2016 WJC Semifinal
1 pm Eastern Standard Time zone


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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