In the battle for World Junior bronze, it was the former first-rounder who bested the potential first rounder, as Team Russia proved too deep and too talented for an upstart Slovakian squad at the World Junior Hockey Championships when the Russians outlasted the Slovaks 5-2 in Ottawa.
"We feel pretty good about [winning bronze]," said Russian captain Nikita Filitov, a former first-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets. "It’s nice to have the medal around our neck and we will remember these games, like the special game against Canada.
"The only bad thing is that we felt that we should be playing in the final game."
Filatov and Slovakian counterpart Tomas Tatar, a highly-rated 2009 draft-eligible forward, let their team onto the Scotiabank Centre ice and pitted a mano-a-mano battle against each other in the tournament’s overall scoring race.
In the end, the two players ended tied with 11 points — finding themselves behind just Canada’s dynamic duo of John Tavares (14) and Cody Hodgson (13) for the tournament’s overall scoring lead prior to the gold-medal game. Filatov scored his seventh and eighth goals of the tournament in the team’s final game. His first goal of the match proved to be the medal-winner, while his second effectively put the game away.
And while Filatov found himself temporarily tied with Tavares for the tournament’s goal-scoring lead, he said those individual stats were not a motivating factor for him.
"All the tournament I wasn’t thinking about goals or points," he said. "After the Latvia game I had no goals and I was feeling OK about it. I’m just excited about getting the bronze medal and all the things we did as a team. We got a lot better from the first game to the last."
Filatov was joined in the Russian goal-scoring parade by blueliner Maxim Gonacharov who netted his fifth goal of the tournament. The Phoenix Coyotes‘ prospect was circumspect in his enthusiasm for the game, although he admitted that he received some encouraging words from his potential future employer.
"After the game with Canada, it’s very hard. We won the bronze medal, but it’s not what we wanted. Third place is very hard," Goncharov said. "We talked to guy from Phoenix and he said I’m playing a good tournament. I hope to go next year and have a good training camp."
The Russian head coach, Sergei Nemchinov was less reticent about describing the value of these two to the Russian cause.
"They are key players on our team. They make good plays, they are very talented kids," he said. "Gonacharov, he can play physical, he can move the puck, he’s good on the power play. Overall, he’s one of the best — I think he might be one of the best defensemen in this tournament.
"Filatov, he played well today. He’s a scorer. You give him a chance and he can score with the puck."
Russia kills off a two-man disadvantage six minutes into the second period and Phoenix Coyotes‘ prospect Maxim Goncharov comes out of the box, flying down the right wing and putting a nice move on Jaroslav Janus to score his fifth goal of the season and twist that dagger into the Slovakian heart.
Tatar continued his torrid tournament, earning his 10th and 11th point with a goal and an assist in a losing cause. He graciously deflected any attention from himself, attributing his success to his linemates. "Our line, our five-man team, played together well throughout the tournament," Tatar said. "I’m very grateful to my teammates because they helped me so much."
Tatar had a breakthrough performance in his draft-eligible year and his coach explained his commitment to team play should serve him well in his future.
"I really stress team play and each player must play a specific role, which has to fit into the team’s plans," Slovak head coach Stephan Mikes said, through a translator. "He scored goals, he was in the right place at the right time.
"He definitely has a bright future if he continues on the way he’s going."
While Goncharov lamented the upcoming 11-hour flight back to Moscow, Filatov — who played a few games with Columbus this year — said he was looking forward to heading back to Syracuse to play at the AHL level. Having asked the Blue Jackets for the right to play for Team Russia, he explained that this experience will make him a better player in the long run.
"It’s really important for me to play for Team Russia. One of the really good things about this event is that it’s good for the young guys, and you get so much experience," Filatov said. "When you’re playing in front of 20,000 screaming people in the stadium it’s really good.
"You become more confident after these games and I think it will help a lot."
And as for the future? Filatov smiled and said he was hoping for the best.
"For next year I don’t know," he said. "From here I’m going to Syracuse, then I’m going to listen to Columbus and what they’ll want from me."