A Tale of Two Russians
Saturday November 22nd 2008, 2:04 am

The Hartford Wolf Pack dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Lowell Devils in Hartford on Friday, but the real story was the game-within-the-game that was played between two friends who were facing each other for the very first time.  Lowell’s Alexander Vasyunov and Hartford’s Artem Anisimov were born a month apart in Yaroslavl, Russia in 1988, came up through the Lokomotiv hockey school together, and played together — often on the same line — in numerous tournaments for the Russian national junior team.  They were drafted just four picks apart in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but at the start of the 2007-2008 season their careers took different paths, as Anisimov came to North America to play for the Wolf Pack while Vasyunov stayed in Yaroslavl, where he fought for ice time in an organization known for developing great young talent, but failing to integrate it at the highest level.  Last month, after playing only two games through the first seven weeks of the KHL season, Vasyunov opted to follow in Anisimov’s footsteps, and left Russia for the AHL.

On Saturday the two friends met as enemies for the first of what will likely be many, many times in their North American professional careers.  And there can be little doubt that the game held special significance to both of them.

Anisimov had the best scoring chance in a scoreless first period when he rang a shot off the post with less than five minutes remaining.  The Pack were the better team in the opening stanza, outshooting the Devils by a margin of 11-6, but were fortunate to see the Devil’s shoot wide on two early period breakaways that developed off miscues at the offensive blue line. The first was the result of a bobbled Brian Fahey keep-in, while the second came off a miscommunication between forward Brodie Dupont and defenseman Ethan Graham at the right point.

The Pack started the second period on the power play and Dupont had what appeared to be a can’t-miss opportunity to give Hartford the lead when he found himself alone in the crease with the puck.  But he was unable to find the puck in his feet before a Devils defenseman scooped it away.

Vasyunov had a prime scoring chance of his own when he picked Graham’s pocket in the high slot a few minutes later and fired off a quick wrist shot, but Pack goalie Miika Wiikman was able to make the stop to keep the teams scoreless.

The two teams split a pair of fights in the 9th minute of the middle frame.  The first was a middleweight battle between Jordan Owens and Brad Mills in which neither player landed many punches.  Mills took a slight edge in the bout based on the number of punches he threw.  The second was a battle of the big boys as Brandon Sugden faced off with rookie forward Thomas Harrison.  Sugden was the clear victor in this one, landing a number of heavy rights while Harrison failed to connect on any of his attempts.

The Devils broke the scoreless tie at 11:19 of the period when former Wolf Pack forward Chad Wiseman was allowed to skate out from behind the Pack net, all the way up to the right point, where he turned and threw a weak shot at the net.  So distracted were the Pack by Wiseman’s journey to the blue line that they left 5′9″, 165 lb. Michael Swift unchecked in the slot, where the Lowell center was able to deflect Wiseman’s shot past Wiikman.  The goal seemed to rattle the Pack, which had played fairly well to that point.  The Devils outplayed them through the remainder of the period, a fact evidenced by Lowell’s 8-5 shot advantage.

Lowell took a two goal lead just 58 seconds into the third period when Vasyunov set up Jon DiSalvatore in the crease. Wiikman stopped DiSalvatore’s first shot, but the Lowell forward was able to beat him high with the rebound.

Gred Moore cut the lead back down to one only 28 second later with his fifth goal of the season by splitting two Devils defenders to beat goaltender Jeff Fraze with a wrist shot high on the glove side from the left circle. Vasyunov answered back with his second point of the night by beating Wiikman with a one-timer from the hashmarks, making it 3-1 at 5:09 of the period.

But Anisimov wasn’t about to let his former teammate show him up, and drew the Pack back to within one with 6:21 remaining in regulation when he used his size to crash the Lowell net, tipping in a Dale Weise centering pass from the right corner.

At 18:53 Mills clipped Dupont with a high stick, earning a himself a double minor and setting up a 6-on-4 advantage for the final minute after Wiikman was pulled for the extra skater.  With just 6.1 seconds remaining, Anisimov sent the teams to overtime by deflecting Corey Potter’s point shot past Fraze.  The Pack finished an improved, but still somewhat error-prone, third period with a 13-4 advantage in shots for a 29-18 edge through regulation.

Despite starting the extra frame with the second of Mills’ two minors still on the board, the Wolf Pack were unable to solve the game in overtime, and after the two teams swapped 4 shots each, they headed to the shootout.

Wiikman allowed the first four Lowell shooters to score while Fraze stopped P.A. Parenteau and allowing goals by Patrick Rissmiller, Tommy Pyatt, and Moore. That set the Pack goalie up for the must-have stop on Rod Pelley.  The Swedish-born netminder made the save to give Anisimov the chance to tie the skills competition and send it into extra rounds.  With a repeat of the beautiful backhand move he used to win the shootout against Bridgeport on opening weekend, Anisimov did just that.  That sent Tyler Eckford, who’d beaten Wiikman for the first goal of the shootout, back out to try his luck.  Once again he beat Wiikman, setting up Anisimov for a second must-score opportunity.  This time, Fraze got the better of the young Russian, earning himself his first AHL win and ending the last place Devils’ winless streak at  seven games.

When all was said and done, Anisimov (2 goals) and Vasyunov (1 goal, 1 assist) were named first and second stars of the game, respectively, and the two friends met up on the ice to congratulate one another after their teams headed off to their locker rooms.

Video highlights from the game are available from AHL Live.

Notes:

  • Dupont, who was cut by Mills’ late-game high stick, did not return for overtime or the shootout.
  • The game was Sugden’s first game back after sitting out two as a healthy scratch and was easily his best of the season.  His three shots on goal equaled the total he’d put up through his first 10 games of the season.
  • Anisimov now has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 16 games, one behind Parenteau for the team lead.
  • Parenteau, who was riding a 7-game point streak coming into the game, was held scoreless.
  • The Pack penalty kill, which has struggled this season, featured an infusion of new blood as both Anisimov (paired with Rissmiller) and Parenteau (paired with Moore) took regular shifts.  The PK was perfect in 6 attempts against Lowell’s 23rd ranked power play.

Pack Scoring:
3. Moore (5) (Soryal, Owens) 1:36
3. Anisimov (3) (Weise) 13:38
3. Anisimov (4) (Potter, Rissmiller) 19:53 (PP)

Lines:
Rissmiller – Moore – Parenteau
Dupont – Anisimov – Weise
Sugden – Pyatt – Soryal
Owens – Ouellette – Ford

Potter – Sanguinetti
Denisov – Fahey
Graham – Sauer

Wiikman / Zaba

Three Stars:
1. Artem Anisimov
2. Alexander Vasyunov
3. Jon DiSalvatore

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