It may not have been a heavyweight tilt that a particular number of people had circled on the World Juniors round robin schedule, but Sunday afternoon’s matchup between Slovakia and Belarus proved to be a diamond in the rough. With some pretty goals, very pretty saves, and the potential of an upset looming throughout, the Slovaks managed to eke out a 4-2 win over the upstart Belarussians, with an empty net goal late securing all three points for Ernest Bokros’s team.
Slovakia jumped out to a 1-0 lead just under seven minutes into Sunday’s game, as Patrick Koch wired a shot from the point through traffic and past Belarus goalie Ivan Kulbakov.
Belarus returned the favour at the 11:33 mark of the first period, with Vadim Malinovski pouncing on a loose puck with an unforgivable amount of time alone in front of the Slovak net. Malinovski beat Adam Huska five-hole to shockingly draw the Belarussians level.
Ruslan Valischuk then grabbed headlines with a powerplay marker just over two minutes into the second period. The Belarus forward smacked a rebound past Huska to give his team its first lead of the tournament.
The Slovaks tied things up at 12:28, with Filip Lestan the benefactor of a horrendous D-zone giveaway by Belarus. Lestan took a feed from Maros Surovy and made no mistake, potting it past a helpless Kulbakov.
Belarus began the third period in the worst way possible, losing yet another D-zone face-off; the puck was then squared for Lukas Hrusik, who beat Kulbakov with a knuckler. Just twenty seconds into the final frame, the Slovaks had their winning goal.
A bizarre sequence at the end of the game saw Kulbakov – pulled from his net and on the bench – jump back on the ice in a desperate, obviously illegal, attempt to bring down the Slovak player charging towards the empty Belarus net. Kulbakov missed the player but appeared, almost comically, to hurt his knee; luckily, he was up and skating around for the post-game ceremonies.
THH Three Stars
1. Ivan Kulbakov (G, BLR): The Belarussian netminder was simply superb, making highlight-reel save upon highlight-reel save to keep his team within striking distance. He’s already won player-of-the-game twice in as many tournament games, and if Belarus wants any chance of avoiding relegation, it will need Kulbakov to continue with his stellar play.
2. Patrik Koch (D, SVK): The mobile Slovak defenceman scored the opening blow in the first period, and was one of his team’s calmest presences in the defensive zone. Though not one of the big names on the Slovak blueline, Koch will certainly have a role to play as the tournament progresses.
3. Matej Palocko (F, SVK): The crafty centreman won the face-off which led to Hrusik’s game-winning goal early in the third, and was solid at both ends of the rink on Sunday.
Game in 30 Seconds:
— Carlos Verde (@Carlos77Verde) December 27, 2015