It hasn’t been the best year for Russian hockey. After the WJC and the Olympic fiasco, the U18 national team joined the group of medal-less Russian teams with a fourth-place finish in the 2010 U18 World Championships in Belarus. After the 3-1 semifinal defeat against Team Sweden, the team led by former Olympic champion Mikhail Vasiliev was defeated by Finland in the bronze medal game 5-1.
“I don’t have any claim against any player,” Vasiliev said after the tournament. “We gave 100 percent, but it didn’t work out. Our team lacked discipline. We had to go through too many unnecessary penalties. There were many cases in which we had a player in the box and then another penalty. Or, our opponents were down a man and we got whistled for a penalty, thus playing four on four instead of on a power play. I can understand that young players are hot-tempered, there’s nothing strange with this, but in such situations there is a need for discipline. With some more discipline we could have won even the game against Sweden.”
A big difference from last year’s silver medal game was the goalkeeper. During the 2009 U18 tournament Igor Bobkov (ANA) was huge in goal for Russia, while this year Sergei Kostenko didn’t look too comfortable and lost the job to 15-year-old, 1994-born Andrei Vasilevski.
“Against the Swedes we could have lost even by a worse score, but Vasilevski played an excellent game," Vasiliev said. "He is a great talent and surely has a bright future in front of him. But also Kostenko has good potential.”
Vasilevski finished the tournament with a save percentage of .896, but he had a 32-save performance against Tre Kronor in the semifinals.
On the blue line, a number of players had a good tournament, especially 2011-eligible Nikita Nesterov and Zakhar Arzamastsev. Nesterov is a 93-born with a very good shot and good physical play, mostly an offensive defenseman, while Arzamastsev plays a more defensive style, but is useful on the power play too with his good reading of the play. He also plays a rather aggressive game. As showed on the bronze medal game he isn’t afraid of dropping the gloves when necessary.
1992-born Alexei Marchenko couldn’t play in the tournament because of an injury, and that deprived Vasiliev of a top defenseman, which would have been very useful for the team. Marchenko is a puck-mover with discipline and good defensive play.
As tradition dictates, the attack was Team Russia’s best feature. Evgeny Kuznetsov played an excellent tournament with 12 points in seven games, and was included in the All-Star team. But it wasn’t enough. Kuznetsov is thought to be a likely pick the first round of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft as he is an offensively gifted forward with tons of skills and an excellent scoring instinct.
“Kuznetsov is an excellent player," said Vasiliev. “He gave everything for the team’s victory. He was our captain, we trusted him and he was a good leader for our squad. But in such tournaments all is up to the team, not the single player.”
Kuznetsov’s linemates were 2011-eligible center Vladislav Namestnikov and CSKA’s winger Sergei Barbashev. They had good chemistry with Kuznetsov and finished the tournament with, respectively, seven and eight points, but as said Vasiliev, you’ve got to be a great team to win, not only a good group of players.
“Our leaders tried to win the game with their skills. They don’t lack talent, but it’s impossible to win this way. Our opponents knew this and worked hard to get them off their game. We also lacked a bit of experience. We could have won both matches, but instead we lost. It happens.”
In spite of the negative result, Team Russia can also be sure to have found another talent: 1993-born forward Maxim Shalunov. The 17-year-old scored three goals during the tournament and has been a constant treat on ice, thanks to his speed and his hockey intelligence. Another 2010 eligible who had a not bad tournament was Owen Sound Attack’s Roman Berdnikov, who will be most likely drafted in June as he is already playing in North America. The Omsk native forward scored six points during the tournament. Another player that scouts might have liked was Vladislav Kartaev. The center plays a smart game, can play both center and wing and knows how to put the biscuit in the basket.
Even without playing, Kirill Kabanov was probably the most talked-about player. He had been abruptly sent from his CHL team Moncton Wildcats to the national team, much earlier than expected. Vasiliev explained that it was a matter of discipline.
“We were counting on Kabanov and Ivan Telegin," he said. "We worked hard for the whole season to get a good atmosphere around the team, but they didn’t understand this. I don’t want to polemize through the press; we simply decided to exclude [Kabanov] from the selection. We played two test games before going to Belarus. How many goals did he score? How many assists did he have?”