Russia completes two-game sweep of QMJHL in 5-4 shootout win

By Ken McKenna

If you’re the coach of a team taking part in the 2012 World Junior Championships next month, you might want to get a head start on your game plan for stopping Russia‘s top scoring combo of Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Kucherov, and Nikita Gusev.

While Russian captain Daniil Apalkov performed the shootout heroics in Russia‘s 5-4 Subway Super Series victory over Team QMJHL, the line of Grigorenko, Kucherov and Gusev put on quite a show for the QMJHL partisans in attendance at the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City. Acadie-Bathurst Titan forward Matthew Bissonette was the scoring star for the QMJHL, notching a hat trick, including a late, tying goal, in a losing cause.

Russia‘s top line was in on three of the team’s four regulation goals, with Kucherov netting one of the two shootout goals that brought Russia the victory.

Kucherov opened the scoring just 55 seconds into the game off of a nice, breakaway feed from Gusev. Kucherov skated in alone, beating QMJHL goaltender Louis Domingue on the glove side for the 1-0 lead. Grigorenko also assisted on the play, with that line being a handful for the QMJHL for much of the first period. In general, Russia controlled play for much of the period, ending with a 14-8 shot advantage and the one-goal lead.

The QMJHL turned in a more determined effort in the second period, with Bissonette breaking the team’s four-period scoreless streak on a wrist shot that beat Russian goaltender Pavel Suchkov. Carl Gelinas of Baie-Comeau and Zach O’Brien, a teammate of Bissonette’s at Acadie-Bathurst, added the assists on the tying goal.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward Charles Hudon gave the QMJHL a lead on a nice effort that saw him bang home his own rebound for the 2-1 advantage. Drummondville Voltigeurs defenseman Marc-Olivier Broulliard and the Saint John Sea Dogs Nathan Beaulieu assisted on the goal. The QMJHL outshot the Russians 16-12 as they headed into the third period with their first lead of the series.

The scoring floodgates opened in the third period, with the Russian squad getting back their one-goal lead off of goals by Emil Galimov and “hometown” favorite, Grigorenko.

Galimov started the scoring at 6:12 of the third, banging in his own rebound after Domingue made the initial stop on Galimov. Defensemen Ildar Isangulov and Efim Gurkin drew the assists on the goal.

Grigorenko, who plays for the Quebec Remparts, scored at 8:14 to give his team the 3-2 lead. Gusev sent Grigorenko in on a breakaway with a perfect, long pass, with Grigorenko deking Domingue and roofing the shot on the backhand.

The QMJHL bounced back four minutes later, with Bissonette picking up his second goal of the game at the 12:31 mark. Bissonette pounced on a shot that appeared to be stopped by Suchkov, helping the shot across the goal line for the tying score. Xavier Ouellet of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and Gatineau Olympiques scoring star Jean-Gabriel Pageau were credited with the assists.

But the QMJHL faithful barely had time to settle back into their seats as just eight seconds later, Nikita Gusev once again put Russia up by one goal, beating Domingue from the top of the left circle on a partially deflected shot that the goaltender would probably like to have back. Grigorenko and Kucherov tallied the assists, giving the line eight points on the night.

The QMJHL pressed to tie the score with their efforts rewarded late in the game with Domingue on the bench for the extra attacker. Hudon put a shot on goal that was stopped by Suchkov, but Bissonette was parked to the left of the Russian goal to fire home the rebound, tying the game at 4 and sending it to the shootout round. The QMJHL finished regulation with a 41-36 edge in shots.

The shootout lasted six rounds, with Kucherov and Apalkov doing the honors for Russia, and Beaulieu scoring the only shootout goal for the QMJHL.

The loss was the QMJHL’s fourth straight at the hands of the Russians. Going back to the WHL games from last year’s series, this win was the fourth straight for the Russian squad. Mikhail Grigorenko and Matthew Bissonette were named the Player of the Game for their respective teams.

Players of note for each club included the following:

Mikhail Grigorenko
– you could probably flip a coin to decide which of Grigorenko or the OHL‘s Nail Yakupov is the top player at this juncture for the 2012 NHL Draft. But it would be hard to argue against the size and skill of Grigorenko, as he at times looked like a man amongst boys in this game. Granted, some of the passes he was able to get away with in this contest might not translate well at the pro level. But there is no denying the ability that was on display in this game, and probably on many nights in rinks around the QMJHL.

Nikita Kucherov
– the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect displayed a nose for the net that was last seen at the 2011 U-18 World Junior Championship. When teamed with Grigorenko, Kucherov is often the trigger man for his center’s pinpoint passes. Kucherov also showed there was a bit more to his game than offense as he spent some time in this game killing penalties.

Nikita Gusev
– Gusev was passed over in the 2011 NHL Draft, most likely due to his diminutive stature. But lack of size didn’t appear to be a problem in this game as Gusev finished the contest with a game-high eight shots on goal. His passing skills were on display tonight, as was an ability to get himself into position for several scoring chances.

Pavel Suchkov
– while he didn’t turn in the 42-save, shutout masterpiece that his teammate, Sergey Kostenko, posted in game 1 of this series, Suchkov nevertheless turned in an effective but workmanlike performance on this night. Like Gusev, Suchkov is probably on the small side, making him less attractive to many NHL teams. But it might be worth a late-round selection to reel in Suchkov, assuming he is inclined to play in North America.

Emil Galimov
– the Russian forward was effective playing on the team’s third line. Galimov finished the game with a goal, four shots on goal, and a +1 rating. Galimov is on the skinny side at 165 pounds, but he could fill out to become an effective two-way forward with some offensive ability.

Matthew Bissonette –
the top player for the QMJHL in this game has yet to have his name called by an NHL club. Bissonette is among the scoring leaders in the QMJHL, and he seems to have the size and enough ability to draw some attention from NHL clubs.

Zack Phillips
– if Jonathan Huberdeau is the classy chassis that is the face of the Saint John Sea Dogs, then Minnesota Wild prospect Zack Phillips is the engine helping to drive that club to the success that they’ve had the past couple of seasons. Phillips turned in a performance in this game that was no different than the hard-charging, in-your-face style of play that Saint John’s fans have come to know and love these past couple of seasons.

Louis Domingue
– the Phoenix Coyotes prospect let in a couple in the third that were goals to leave off of the highlight reel. But Domingue also made some spectacular saves that helped keep his team in the game early on. Domingue has the size that many teams covet at the goaltending position, but he still needs time to round his game into shape.

Nathan MacKinnon
– the top-ranked prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft showed some of the ability that makes him such a highly coveted prospect. But he also showed that he is still a work in progress, at times being a little too cute with the puck as well as missing a wide-open net on what appeared to be a certain goal. But he has played well this season, as he sits among the top scorers in the QMJHL at a still young age.

Charles Hudon
– another 2012 NHL Draft prospect that turned in a good showing was Hudon. He finished the game with a goal and an assist, a +1 rating, and a team-high five shots on goal. If there is one player that may have raised his profile in this game, it is probably Hudon.