This year event was missing its most awaited prospect in Connor McDavid, but its plot was perfectly written to remain interesting until the very last minute.
Surprisingly enough, Russia took a commanding 3-0 lead after the first three games of the series, but the following wins by OHL and QMJHL teams made the 6th game on November 20th in Rimouski a decisive one.
In addition to KHL goaltender Ilya Sorokin, Coach Valery Bragin didn’t bring to the event the main Russian offensive weapons, leaving Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Kamenev and Nikolai Goldobin in Europe with their senior teams.
Moncton Wildcats’ Vladimir Tkachev and Baie-Comeau Drakkar’s Valentin Zykov were also missing because of injury.
The QMJHL team had its share of missing players as injured Samuel Morin, Clark Bishop and Jeremy Roy couldn’t attend the event.
Coming off a strong effort in game 5, QMJHL started the final game with good pace again and put the Russian defense under pressure early on, but Shestyorkin was well on his game and up to the task. After Fishchenko’s goal, QMJHL team cooled off significantly and when in the 2nd period Desrosiers allowed two weak goals in five minutes the game appeared to be totally in control of the Russians; however, they missed more than one chance to finish it off, none better than the inside post hit by Kraskovsky’s backhand off a well orchestrated counter attack four minutes into the 3rd period.
The goal scored from the blueline by Nicolas Meloche three minutes later was all QMJHL needed to start rolling again and De Luca’s nice redirection goal on the PP with more than seven minutes left on the clock made the Russian team shake, forcing its players to fight again for a win they felt secured ten minutes earlier.
Bragin only used his best defensive players in the remaining part of the game and with the help of their goaltender the struggling Russians managed to preserve the 3-2 lead and get the definitive win.
To follow, brief summaries of the previous games and, at the bottom, some comments on the performances of a few WJC candidates.
November 10th, Game 1 in Saskatoon
Team Russia – Team WHL : 3 – 2
Russia had three important CHL additions for the first 2 games in Ivan Provorov, Rinat Valiev and Nikita Scherbak. The first two were valid contributors, made for a good pairing on defense and especially Provorov probably helped his chances to be on the WJC team in Toronto despite being the youngest player on the squad. Scherbak on the other hand was disappointing in his return to Saskatoon, and left winger Maxim Mamin was lost for the tournament when just three minutes into the competition he crashed hard into the end boards suffering a concussion.
After allowing a goal just 30 seconds into the contest, team WHL found its game and clearly outplayed the Russians in the 2nd and 3rd periods, with Chase, Virtanen and Point having good showings among forwards.
When Cole Ully finally solved Igor Sherstyorkin’s resistence with only a couple of minutes left the game seemed to be decided, but one minute later Russia’s player of the game Konstantin Okulov was able to score the equalizer with a nice solo effort coming off the right side boards.
With backup goaltender Denis Kostin surprisingly relieving Shestyorkin for the ensuing shootouts, team Russia eventually managed to get the win at the end of an eleven rounds thriller.
November 11th, Game 2 in Brandon
Team Russia – Team WHL : 3 – 2
WHL found itself down by two halfway through the game despite overall having the edge in play as well as in the faceoff circle; the PP finally came in relief with Hicketts goal early in the 3rd period, but the main WHL offensive weapons weren’t able to generate enough scoring chances and Virtanen failed to convert on the few ones he had.
Not known for his goal scoring, Jets prospect Pavel Kraskovsky picked the right place to provide offense recording two goals, one assist in the one game played in Manitoba and the strong play by Denis Kostin helped team Russia securing the second win in the series.
November 13th, Game 3 in Peterborough
Team Russia – Team OHL : 4 – 0
Tolchisnky, Gorodetsky and Sharipzyanov were the North American additions to team Russia, but only the Greyhounds’ dynamic winger seemed capable of providing some actual help.
Team OHL had a strong and physical first period, but nothing to show for it. In the second the Russians’ offense suddenly woke up and took full advantage of a couple of defensive breakdowns, eventually scoring four unanswered goals to complete probably their best period of the series.
Shestyorkin was perfect till the end of the game not allowing team OHL any chance to come back.
Max Domi and Nick Ritchie got off to a great start but couldn’t keep it going through three periods. Darnell Nurse played a simple and safe game and was the OHL’s player of the game.
November 17th, Game 4 in Kingston
Team OHL – Team Russia : 5 – 1
After three days of rest the Russians came out flat and most players basically didn’t show up in the first two periods, Dergachyov was the only one providing a good performance. A motivated OHL team had little troubles shutting away the win within the first two periods. Max Domi took full advantage of his 2nd opportunity to shine and showed his dynamic skills, while 2015 draft eligible Mackenzie Blackwood had a solid game in net. Other players who had solid showings for the OHL included, Lawson Crouse, Nick Ritchie, Remi Ellie and Chris Bigras.
November 18th, Game 5 in Bathurst
Team QMJHL – Team Russia : 3 – 1
Pace and team effort were the trademarks brought into the game by the QMJHL team, whose forwards were able to finally solve Shestyorkin with a couple of nice wristers high glove side.
QMJHL imports Ivan Barbashev, Evgeny Svechnikov and Maxim Lazarev were supposed to refresh team Russia offense after a disappointing game 4, but none of them were effective in game 5 (Barbashev was much better in game 6) and nothing seemed to work against Zach Fucale and his penalty killing teammates who survived 9 powerplays and 22 shots against in the 3rd period, keeping the series alive.
#4 – Madison Bowey (WSH)
The first game was up and down for the strong-skating Capitals prospect. Bowey showed his confidence in trying consistently to build offense up from the rear and was jumping into the play right from the first period. However, he had an unnecessary roughing penalty, an uncalled similar play in the following period, plus a bad slash right at the end of the game (good thing there was no overtime).
Aside from some undisciplined play, he had a bad give away in his zone on the PP and a terrible one later on right in front of his net while trying to quick-start transition. Still, overall he was a strong contributor and his play was definitely cleaner in the second game.
#10 – Josh Morrissey (WPG)
Not his best performances, his play on the PP was pedestrian in the first game.
At even strength he showed his speed on a rush down the wing but couldn’t finish, had another poor finishing attempt later on. Was a bit soft in puck battles and retrieves behind his net, like when he got beaten cleanly by Leschenko along the boards.
His play on the offensive blueline was sharper in the 2nd game and was instrumental on Hicketts’ powerplay goal when he managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone thanks to a good read and pinch.
#17 – Shea Theodore (ANA)
The Ducks prospect didn’t manage to have much of an impact or get his shots through, added a turnover in his zone but also had a couple of nice plays, like a one touch pass from inside the offensive blueline.
He perhaps underrated the danger coming off his opposite side on Okulov’s game tying goal, when the shifty Russian approached the net he probably could have been faster closing in.
Theodore did not play in the second game.
#16 – Max Domi (ARI)
Domi had a good start in Peterborough and then played three great periods in Kingston. There is slim to no chance that he will be left of the team this year. Team Canada will need his ability to put points on the board, much like he has done all season in London.
#20 – Nick Ritchie (ANA)
Ritchie came flying out of the gate hitting everything that moved in the game in Peterborough. He tends to play his best games when he mixes knocking bodies around into his game. In the next game in Kingston he had a much more consistent three periods and played the physical style all game long.
#67 – Lawson Crouse (2015 Draft)
Crouse got more ice as the game went on, especially in the 3rd period. He only had this Subway game to show his stuff to the Hockey Canada brass and he made the most of it. He was very good and he gave himself a chance to keep the invite to Canada’s main camp alive.
#23 – Frederik Gauthier (TOR)
The QMJHL captain couldn’t generate anything offensively in either game, but his prowess in the faceoff circle and effectiveness on the penalty killing were on display, not betraying the trust showed by Canada head coach Groulx, only reaffirming Gauthier as a prime candidate to get a spot as a defensive specialist on Canada WJC team.
#3 – Dmitry Yudin
Already in his second KHL season as a regular for SKA St.Petersburg, Yudin this time lived up to his credentials and his play was much better than in August at the Summer Development Camp in Quebec. Mostly paired with Rafikov on the #1 unit both at even strength and on special teams, he was able to show his good strength, shot and mobility, confirming to be a strong candidate to represent Russia at the upcoming WJC.
#10 – Pavel Kraskovsky (WPG)
An all around player only fifty days older than 1st round candidate E. Svechnikov, the sixth round pick was heavily relied upon by Bragin in all situations. To go along with his nice frame, he showed his good skating, puck protection skills and underrated passing game. He brought a consistent effort and he was the best player on his line in all six games, putting his name in play to be on the Russian WJC squad as an underager.
#25 – Alexander Dergachyov (2015 Draft)
The sturdy draft eligible Dergachyov got better as the series progressed and despite registering only two assists in six matches he probably helped his status among scouts showing a game well suited for the North American rinks and the pro game. He took regular shifts on the PK despite the young age and his play probably gave Bragin something to think about with reference to the WJC roster.
#7 – Rushan Rafikov (CGY)
The team captain played a demanding role logging heavy minutes in all six games and overall was arguably the best performer on defense for team Russia, providing leadership and consistent two-way play. Pugnacious and reliable, the Flames 7th round pick will probably play a similar role on the WJC Russian squad.
#27 – Vyacheslav Leschenko
This strong-skating right winger brings a consistent effort and at the junior level can help his team in several ways, which makes him a very good candidate to land a spot for the WJC. Leschenko can be effective as a bottom six forward, but would not look out of place if required to step up to complement one of the first two lines, even if he isn’t the best finisher and lacks top end skills. He had no luck in the first 4 games, going scoreless and minus 3, but eventually his efforts paid off in the final two games when along with drawing some penalties he was part of two of the last four Russian goals in the event.
#30 – Igor Shestyorkin (NYR)
One of the main reasons why team Russia was able to win this series, Igor was terrific in four of the five games he played, his overall performance being on par with the impressive start of the season he has had in Russia. Maybe reading the HP 2014 Black Book profile could have suggested CHL players to start shooting high earlier than game 5, when Francis Perron’s and Daniel Audette’s wristers finally opened a crack in Shestyorkin’s game, but the Rangers prospect provided more solid goaltending in the final game.
#15 – Evgeny Svechnikov (2015 Draft)
The 17 year old failed to have an impact in both games and had his icetime decreased as they progressed. What’s worse, he fell backwards into the side boards during the 3rd period of game 6 and appeared to suffer an injury to his right knee.