Russia 2, Czech Republic 1 (SO)
New York (The Draft Analyst) — Artur Lauta scored the game-tying goal in the third period, and Maxim Lazarev scored the lone marker in the shootout as Team Russia ousted the Czech Republic 2-1 in the opening game of the 2016 World Junior Championships from Helsinki, Finland.
Lauta, an undrafted right wing who starred for Team Russia at the recent Super Series against the Canadian Hockey League, buried a loose puck in goalie
Vítek Vaněček’s crease at the 9:09 mark of the third after an elusive move at the blue line by crafty center Radel Fazleev (Philadelphia Flyers) created the scoring chance.
The Czech Republic held a slight territorial advantage through the first two periods of what was a tightly-checked affair. Michael Spacek, a fourth round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2015, took control of the game in the middle frame and seemingly broke the scoreless deadlock with a power play goal. which was later nullified after Flyers’ prospect David Kase interfered with Russian goalie Alexander Georgiyev. Spacek later converted on the penalty shot he was awarded the next shift when he was slashed by defenseman Alexander Mikulovich, giving the Czech Republic a 1-0 lead after two periods.
The Czech Republic held a 25-22 advantage in shots, but took 27 minutes in penalties — 25 on just one play — to Russia’s six. Defenseman Jakob Zboril, a Boston Bruins first round draft pick (13th overall) in 2015, was ejected for boarding Yegor Korshkov midway through the opening period.
C MICHAEL SPACEK (Winnipeg 4th/2015): Spacek centered the Czech’s top line alongside Sarnia Sting LW Pavel Zacha (NJD) and Moose Jaw Warriors’ RW Jiří Smejkal. Dubbed the “CHL Line”, the trio was led by the skilled Spacek, who did his best to create chances with very little being offered. He centered the top power play unit as well, and hammered a loose puck home with the man advantage but it was waved off when RW David Kase interfered with Russian goalie Alexander Georgiev. Spacek showed good speed the very next shift to find himself on a breakaway, which led to his penalty shot goal. He was the top player for the Czech Republic but was curiously omitted from the shootout, where they went 0-for-3.
LW PAVEL ZACHA (New Jersey 1st/2015): Zacha, the sixth overall pick last June, was physically engaged but tailed off towards the second half of the contest. He didn’t have a strong game, let alone a dominant one. Zacha did move the puck around pretty well with his linemates, particularly on the power play. He was not used in the shootout, nor did he seem to play during the four-on-four overtime. He finished with two shots and did not register a point. For what it’s worth, he also had an average game in last year’s opener but was more of a role player. (Editor’s note — Zacha suffered an injury during the match and did not dress for 12/28/15 game against Slovakia. He was listed as day to day).
C FILIP CHLAPIK (Ottawa 2nd/2015): Chalpik had a strong game controlling the puck, specifically calming things down in the face of a Russian zone coverage. You could see the Czechs tried to crack the wall with patience and timing, and what better player to use than the Charlottetown Islander, who did not register a shot but was crisp and clean with his set-ups, albeit which wound up on the periphery of the goal mouth.
LW SIMON STRANSKY (2016 Draft Eligible/1997): Stransky played left wing on what looked like the Czech Republic’s third line. He had two shots on goal, but his best chance was a down-low play in which he found himself alone along the goal line before walking untouched to the net and firing one high and wide. He didn’t look out of place despite being the Czechs’ youngest forward, and one occasion swiped away a Russian centering feed in his own end before softy moving it up ice to a teammate. He did make a costly mistake, however, as his failure to play the body and angle fellow-WHL’er Redel Fazleev at the Czech blue line resulted in an open lane to the cage and Artur Lauta’s subsequent tying goal.
RHD FILIP HRONEK (2016 Draft Eligible/1997): Solid game for young two-way defender who saw his minutes increase as the game progessed. He was even used as a forward in overtime (albeit briefly), but wound up with two shots in the extra session. Known more for his offensive play, Hronek seemed to have improved his one-on-one and physical play. In the third period, he rubbed out the stockier Andrei Kuzmenko, who has 40 pounds on him. You can tell the amount of U20 and Extraliga play has been helping him, as he did not look like a novice out there at all. Hronek also sprung Spacek with a two-line feed for his breakaway which drew the successful penalty shot.
LHD DAVID SKLENICKA (2016 Draft Eligible/1996): Only a double-overager by a week, this swift-skating blueliner was very aggressive with the puck on his stick, which was necessary considering there was barely any room on the ice to do anything remotely creative. Defensively, he was solid in his own end, as he controlled a breakout beginning with a steal and evasion behind his own net before darting up the ice for time and space.
LHD IVAN PROVOROV (Philadelphia 1st/2015): He’s probably the most talented player the Russian’s trotted out before the crowd in Helsinki, and yet his ability to adapt to the one-ice nature of the contest against the Czechs was yet another notch on his belt. Provorov hasn’t had a monster season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but he was somewhat sound and reliable in today’s game that you can see why he is held in such high regard. He unloaded his signature shot on several occasions, but his positional play and leadership is what helped Russia stay in the game and attack when necessary. For us, it was good to see him shut opponents down, but at he same time, he wasn’t very dynamic or creative. There’s a good chance Provorov does not finish this specific tournament with gaudy stats, especially if games will be tightly checked.
RW ARTUR LAUTA (2016 Draft Eligible/1996): Lauta was one of the few Russians to show up and play in last month’s Super Series against the CHL, and he’s continued his impressive international resume thanks to a hard-working goal he scored to tie things up and get the game to overtime. He’s a strong skater with tenacity and selfless play, and the puck always seems to find him when Russia needed a big play. And he’s not a mucker or grinder; one one play, he skated through the neutral zone with speed, stopped on a dime along the near boards and threaded a pass to a trailer for a chance in the high slot. Somebody draft this kid already, please. He was the third shooter in the shootout but was stopped after he used a pedestrian move.
RW EVGENI SVECHNIKOV (Detroit 1st/2015): We salute this ridiculously-skilled Russian scorer for trying to do everything for the Russians, who were seemingly ordered to keep things tight and minimize risk. Svechnikov flanked Vladislav Kamenev and finished with only one shot. The problem is that Svechnikov tried to do too much, and he was guilty of either overhandling the puck or waiting too long to shoot. It wasn’t a very strong game for a kid the Russians will lean on heavily if they are to succeed in the tournament. He too was not used in the shootout.