A World Junior Championship isn’t complete until perennial foes Russia and Canada face off in a winner-takes-all elimination match, and that’s exactly what will happen tonight, after the Russia dispatched the Czech Republic in the tournament quarterfinal on Friday.
Ranger 2008 third round draft picks Evgeny Grachev and Tomas Kundratek saw a lot of each other in the quarterfinal, and while Kundratek entered the game having played better and turned more heads in the round-robin portion of the tournament, it was Grachev who finally showed some of the skill, speed and strength that first got him noticed in the U-18 World Championship in Kazan in 2008 and had him leading all rookies in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in scoring before he left for Ottawa two weeks ago.
Grachev, who’s playing center in the tournament after spending much of this season on the left wing for the Brampton Battallion, set up the eventually game-winner by Nikita Filatov with a perfect pass to the right faceoff dot from behind the goal early in the third period. But what caught most observers eyes was the 3-on-5 shorthanded goal that gave Russia the 3-0 lead six minutes later. With two players in the box for Team Russia, Grachev won the defensive zone faceoff, which was controlled by defenseman Dmitri Kulikov and cleared to center ice through Czech defender David Stich, where Grachev raced fellow prospect Kundratek for the puck. Grachev used his long reach to poke the puck beyond Kundratek’s reach, and turned on the jets to pick it up and carry into the Czech zone alone, beating the Czech goaltender through the five-hole with a backhander. It was Grachev’s first goal of the tournament and the first time Kundratek had been on the ice for a goal against in the entire tournament.
Now Kundratek and the Czechs will face-off against a disappointing Team USA, who fell to Slovakia in the other quarterfinal match, for fifth place in the tournament, while the Russian squad plays Canada for a berth in the gold medal game tonight. Russia hasn’t beaten Canada in a World Junior Championship medal round game since 2003, and have dropped their last three medal round meetings. It’ll also be an opportunity for Grachev to face off against his Brampton Battalion teammate, Cody Hodgson, who is currently tied for the tournament lead in points with Canadian teammate John Tavares with 3 goals and 9 assists for 12 points.
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