SPISSKA NOVA VES, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 17: Russia's Kirill Maximov #16 Ilya Gurban #14 of Belarus battle for the puck during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Russians to quarters, Belarus to relegation series
Badly outplayed in the first half by Belarus, the Russians came back with a strong second half to win 4-1, thanks to two goals from Ivan Chekhovich.
“It wasn’t an easy task,” Chekhovich said after the game. “We weren’t good to start, but we were a bit better in the third period.”
In their most recent outing against Sweden, the Belarusians were less than a minute away from getting at least their first point of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. This time out, they needed a win in regulation time to keep their hopes of advancing to the quarter-finals alive. For half of the game against Russia, they seemed determined to do just that. In the end, however, they finish the group stage without any points.
Belarus was surprisingly dominant in the first period against a Russian squad that still has its sights set on claiming second place in Group B, winning in the shot count by a decisive 13-7 margin and getting most of the best scoring chances. The best chance came midway through the period when Vladislav Yeryomenko exited the penalty box, took a breakaway pass and skated right in on Kirill Ustimenko, who denied the Belarusian defenceman with a pad save.
The Belarusian pressure continued into the second as the Russians took two straight penalties, but the game remained scoreless until the 27th minute, with the teams at full strength, when the puck squirted out from behind the Russian net to Artyom Anosov, who snapped home an unassisted goal.
Anosomov figured: “We played good for two periods, but in the third Russia … it’s such a good team - one of the best five teams - and it’s so hard to play against them, but we played well.”
The reeling Russians seemed to wake up at that point, however. Just over a minute after the Belarusian goal, Ivan Drozdov was called for tripping and Russia went to the power play. They hadn’t generated much on their two opportunities in the first period, when they were perhaps trying to be a bit too fancy, but this time they put their work boots on and Chekhovich put home a rebound to tie the score.
“It was a shot from our captain, Alexei Lipanov, and I was lucky enough on the rebound,” he recalled, noting that the mood of the team changed after that. “When you score once, it means you feel better. We worked harder after that goal and felt more confident.”
Less than a minute after that, they took the lead on a brilliant individual effort by Kirill Slepets, wrapping the puck around the net on his backhand before Andrei Grishenko could reach the far post.
It was still a just a one-goal game, but with the monkey off their backs the Russians seemed to play with much more poise from that point onward. They gave the Belarusians very few chances in the third period, and when Andrei Svechnikov tipped Mark Rubinchik’s point shot on the power play midway through the third period to make it 3-1, one felt that they pretty much had the three points in hand.
“They scored on the power play twice, and we need to be better on our power play,” Anosomov stated the primary difference in the game. “We need to work on it more because we had enough chances.”
Chekhovich’s second goal of the game late made it a 4-1 final.
WIth the win, the Russians are now tied with Sweden in points for second place in Group B. Depending on the outcome of the two games, they could still finish anywhere between second and fourth. Belarus, meanwhile, will have to win two out of three games against its neighbour from Latvia to stay in the top group next year.