The 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships from Helsinki, Finland opened up with Russia and the Czech Republic, with the stronger Russian team coming back to win the game 2-1 in the shootout.
After ten minutes of sloppy action, the underdog Czech team skated to a 5-1 shot advantage after using the likes of Michael Špaček and Pavel Zacha to force to be busy early Alexandar Georgiyev. It wasn’t totally shocking that the Czech’s had decent chances in the first, with the team taking a surprising 4-1 win on New Year’s Eve a year ago to head into the quarter-finals with a bit of momentum. That wouldn’t mean too much in the medal round, however, as the Russians went all the way to the finals while the Czech’s lost to their hated rivals from Slovakia, who made a surprise run to a bronze medal.
At the 10:17 mark of the first period, the Russian’s found themselves on the first power play of the season. With Yegor Korshkov near the boards trying to receive a pass, Boston Bruins draft pick Jakub Zboril would hit the Russian forward from behind, earning a five-minute major on the play. The Russian’s wouldn’t do much with their man advantage, with Sergei Boikov actually taking a holding penalty with 2:45 left of extra ice action to negate much of the play.
The Russians were struggling to put the puck on net, but their best chances in the first 27 minutes actually didn’t count as shots. First, 2016 NHL Draft prospect Alexander Polunin had a very dangerous opportunity in the first, missing a completely empty net from about five feet away. Then, in the second, Winnipeg Jets prospect Pavel Kraskovskiy was all alone in front but the crossbar was right there to keep the puck out.
The Czech’s would finally find a way to score in the second period, but it didn’t happen without a bit of controversy. With about seven minutes to go in the period, Winnipeg Jets prospect Michael Spacek found the back of the net after picking up a rebound to the right of the Russian net. However, it was determined that David Kase actually interfered with Georgiev in the crease, with the referees quicking waving off the goal.
That wouldn’t matter for long. On his very next shift, Spacek would be hooked on a breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot. A highly skilled player with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, Spacek would make no mistake with a great deke, using tremendous patience to fake out the Russian netminder and fire it home for the 1-0 lead.
The Russians were getting desperate to tie the game up, trying anything they possibly could to get themselves on the board. With nine minutes off the clock in the third, the team finally got their wish. After an attempt by Radel Fazleyev didn’t beat Vitek Vanecek, Artur Lauta found a way to end his shutout after tapping in the puck at the doorstep, tying things up at one apiece with a lot of hockey still to play.
With the Russians now back in the game, the first contest of the World Juniors would require overtime. Even that wouldn’t solve the match, meaning that a shootout would have to take place to decide the victor. Forunately for the Russians, a very strong effort in the third period would carry on to the skills competition, with Maxim Lazarev scoring the only goal on the very shot to give Russia the 2-1 victory to start off the World Juniors.
Russia will get the day off on Sunday before meeting with the hosts from Finland at 11:00 am ET on Sunday. The Czech Republic will open the day with a match-up against the Slovaks in a rematch of their quarter-final game last year with the puck set to drop at 7:00 am.
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