by Lisa McRitchie on 01/01/12 at 07:30 AM ET
Can you believe it! It’s not even a question when talking about the 2012 IIHF World Juniors, not today at least. Both December 31st Calgary games seemed to be won long before the final buzzer, but in both situations, the perceived victor walked away with their heads hanging.
It happened first to Switzerland as they lost to Slovakia, and happened once again as the Russians lost to the surging Swedes in an exciting Saturday night game.
The Russian goaltenders have been the driving force to this team and when combined with the skaters who seemingly have no trouble taking procession of the puck in the neutral or defensive zone you have the ingredients for a recipe for disaster for all opponents. Just as the Slovakians, Latvians and Swiss.
All week, Russia has started off slowly in the first periods, dominating in the third. For this game, it seemed that Russia perhaps wasn’t as confident; perhaps felt that they had to wear their opposition out in the first period. Two even strength and one short handed goals in the first 20 minutes certainly made things look bleak for Sweden; especially when a first period Swedish goal was waived off.
Sweden had to outshoot the Russians 54 to 26 to get as far as they did. And even then, it took a well timed penalty in the third period and the subsequent extra attackers to help propel the team and score the third and final goal needed to tie the game. Once again, the Russians have their goaltender Andrei Vasilevski to thank.
With this loss, Vasilevski falls to second in the tournament with a save percentage of 0.968 and a GAA of 1.31. Before this game, Vasilevski had not allowed a single goal against. Speaking through a translator, the Russian team captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov certainly doesn’t think less of his teammate following the loss to Sweden. Of course Kuznetsov is “Very happy with the goaltender. He’s one of the best ones at this tournament. He made a lot of saves, I’m very happy with his performance.”
Kuznetsov has already looked ahead to his next game because there is nothing that can be changed, and after all “When you spend time in the penalty box, it’s hard to be playing.” Eight penalties compared to the two for Sweden, was a very large contributing factor to the final results. “If we’re destined to win, we will win.”
The trio of Swedish goals started with Oilers prospect Oscar Klefbom from the point, something that not enough teams in pool A seem to be utilizing in their players.
Klefbom is a shut down defenceman who when paired with partner Jonas Brodin make up according to Sweden’s head coach Roger Ronnberg Oscar “Our best pair of D in this game.”
Ronnberg certainly does not have a lack of talent on his roster. Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Friberg has stood out in this tournament since scoring 4 goals in his first game. It was Friberg who scored the game tying goal with 40 seconds left in regulation time, and Friberg who earned an assist on the overtime game winning goal. Friberg’s 7 goals have him tied for first with Canada’s Mark Stone.
To Ronnberg, Friberg is “Unbelievable and he’s one of those characters. I think that if you worked with him you would understand how much of a winner he is. He’s now blaming himself for missing some scoring chances.”
Max Friberg in a familiar situation, right in front of the net.
For Oscar Klefbom, this game was perfect and at first, that was the only word that Klefbom could find to describe what he thought. With time, Klefbom reflected “We didn’t play so good the first two periods, but the last one was unbelievable. It just shows what a strong team we are. Just reload and prepare for the semi finals and it begins right now.”
Ultimately, this game was important, but things are certainly not over for either team. Sweden has earned an extra day off that none of the players would have traded. It also means that Sweden would not have to face Canada, should Canada win their Tuesday night, until the finals.
But don’t count the Russians out yet. Speaking through a translator, Russian coach Valeri Bragin knows what his team is capable of, “I think that we already have a good team, but this loss means that we have to go the more difficult road to the medal round.”
Both teams are working for nothing less than gold, but only one team can win it. Add to that the teams from Pool B who will travel to Calgary Sunday a day off from competition, for the final days of the tournament and what you are left with is a guarantee of exciting hockey with uncertain results. Can you believe it hockey is here to stay, at least for another few days.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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