Special to WashingtonCaps.com
Thanks to Washington Capitals draft selections Evgeny Kuznetsov
and Dmitri Orlov, Russia is back on the junior hockey map at the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship being held in Buffalo, N.Y.
Kuznetsov, a 2010 first-round pick (26th overall), scored late in the third period and again in overtime to lead Russia back from a 3-1 deficit over the final three minutes of regulation in their quarterfinal game with Finland.
Orlov, chosen in the second round of the 2009 draft (55th overall), is the second leading scoring defenseman at the tournament with one goal and eight assists in the first nine games. He had three assists in a preliminary round victory over Norway and added one goal and two assists in a win against the Czech Republic.
Both are among the top 10 point-getters among the 10 teams entering Wednesday’s gold medal game, where Russia will face Canada.
It’s been a long way back for Russia in this tournament. The Russians finished sixth last year in Saskatoon winning just three games—their first year without a medal since 2003-04, when they finished fifth.
Kuznetsov, at 6’, 172 pounds, can skate and use his body effectively as well as shoot the puck. Playing in his second season for Chelyabinsk Traktor in the Kontinental Hockey League, he has scored six goals with three assists in 23 games.
He was a silver medalist as captain of Russia at the 2009 Under-18 championships, scoring five goals and seven assists over seven games and is in his second year at the Under-20 games, though he doesn’t turn 19 until May 5. Kuznetsov was named Russia’s Player of the Game for the preliminary round victory over Norway when he had a goal and an assist with a game-high nine shots on goal.
But it was his highlight-reel late-game
and overtime heroics in the quarterfinals where Kuznetsov truly put his personal stamp on the tournament.
“When the best teams play, it sometimes comes down to who is more lucky,” said Kuznetsov through an interpreter after that game. “I think we were just lucky tonight.”
“I trained hard from the summer because one of my goals was to get a medal at the World Juniors. I was tired of coming back (home) from big tournaments and winning nothing and everybody is asking what happened—I just want to win. And in the hockey world our team is not as respected as it was before, so it also is motivation.”
Orlov, assistant captain for this year’s Team Russia squad, is also no stranger to international play, winning silver in 2008 and 2009 with Russia’s Under-18 teams and playing in his second Under-20 tournament.
The soon-to-be 20 year old (July 23) defenseman has two goals with seven assists over 26 games this season playing for Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the KHL. Opposing players have been seen during the tournament scurrying out of the way of his booming slapshot from the point, especially on the power play.
Listed at 6’ and 176 pounds, like most offensive-minded defensemen the left-handed shot will need to work a bit on his defensive responsibilities when he moves to the next level. He was named Russia’s Player of the Game for the quarterfinal win over Finland when he was held off the scoresheet but had three shots on goal and was a +1.
“I like to rush the puck up the ice and attack and score goals,” said Orlov. As for his time with the Caps training camp, “it was great. They are very professional and calculated.
“The difficult thing for me was that I don’t know English so the second camp was better because the other Russian players on the team would help me.”
In the semifinal comeback victory over top seed Team Sweden, Orlov led the rush on the game-tying goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation and was credited with an assist.
“We are playing as a team,” he said, “we are staying together as a team and are all together as one from the coaches and players.”