-- Grigori Zheldakov blasted a shot from the high-slot into the top corner 1:30 into the extra frame to give Russia a 2-1 victory over the Czechs in an exciting end-to-end battle on Monday.
Russia is off to face undefeated Team Canada in the semi-finals for an opportunity to defend their title and acquire a Gold medal in consecutive years for the first time since 2003.
Zheldakov said it was a huge win for the Russian team.
“It was a very difficult game and I tried to control my emotions,” he said, “and I hope the emotions from the win will help us tomorrow against Canada.”
It was a goaltender showdown at the Scotiabank Saddledome as the backstops faces a combined 86 shots and saw only three goals in the contest. Petr Mrazek was the busier of the two turning aside 43 shots and making several highlight reel saves.
Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevski stood tall, particularly when facing the Czech powerplay with under a minute left in the third period and the first part of overtime.
Russia held a slight edge in shots 45-39.
The Czechs jumped out to the lead in the second frame when fending off a Russian defender around the net, Tomas Hertl backhanded it in front of the blue paint with Jakub Culek sneaking around the other side of the net to snap the scoring stalemate with his second tally of the tournament and fifth point.
Russia would fight back to tie the game just over five minutes later with an even strength marker from Danil Apalkov when he danced into the Czechs zone and used defender Vojtech Mozik as a screen and sent a laser under the crossbar beating Petr Mrazek.
The game would remain tight in the third with each team fighting for any and every scoring opportunity. It was only fitting the game would be sent into overtime.
For the Czechs, the disappointment has set in and they move forward knowing they almost wrote a storybook ending. A very fitting comparison would be the underdog Czech team in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan where the squad rode the coat tails of Domink Hasek to a Gold Medal victory.
Just like the national hero’s of 1998, this young team came very close to a marquee date with the favored Canadians and could have leaned on the emerging star Petr Mrazek into the Gold Medal game.
“It was a very nice tournament for us” Mrazek said, “Everybody is angry and sad in the dressing room but we have to move on and focus for the relegation round against Slovakia.”
The Russians have dominated the Czechs in recent World Junior matches coming out on top the last seven times they have faced them.
It was Russia’s fourth win of the tournament. The only set back they have suffered was a 4-3 overtime loss against Sweden in the preliminary round.Author: Jason Johnson