It didn’t matter what the Americans sent towards the Russian net as Ilya Samsonov’s 49 saves helped lead the Russians to a surprise 3-1 victory at the Under-18’s.
The opening period saw some incredible back and forth action. Easily the biggest game of the Under-18’s so far, the Americans and Russians traded chances right off the bat, with the edge going to the more experienced Americans right out of the gate. USA came in with the most experienced roster in the tournament, with all 23 players having played internationally at some point in the past. In fact, the roster contains many players that will hear their names called fairly early over the next two NHL Drafts, including Auston Matthews, the expected first overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Thanks to their early effort, USA found themselves ahead early on. 2015 NHL Draft prospect Troy Terry, a forward with the USA U18 NTDP, took a fantastic quick wrist shot over the glove of Ilya Samsonov, giving the Americans the 1-0 lead on an individual effort seven minutes in. It was the only goal of the exciting first period, which saw Samsonov forced to make some huge stops against the likes of Matthews and Clayton Keller, two players who rarely get stopped.
The Americans once again started the second period with a resilient attack right off the get go, but it would be the Russians who found success first. Despite being down a man, Denis Guryanov, the 27th top ranked player heading into the NHL Draft, blew past an American defender and sneaked the puck between the legs of Luke Opilka for the tying goal.
The Russians would grab their first lead of the game seven minutes into the period. This time, it would be Denis Zhukenov who would capitalize on a great tick-tac-toe play in front of the net, giving his team the 2-1 advantage in a surprising start to the second period. The Americans still looked like the stronger team in all three zones of the ice, but with Samsonov standing tall, the Russians were able to finish the second period on top.
The third period was much of the same. Samsonov made some big stops, most notably on good chances from Clayton Keller and Jack Roslovic on partial breakaways. Samsonov, the top rated European goaltender heading into the NHL Draft, was stellar at the World Junior A Challenge earlier this season, leading the Russians to a bronze medal title in December. His incredible play would hold up until the final buzzer, as the Russians would get an empty netter late before taking the surprise 3-1 victory on the opening day of the Under-18’s.
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