BUFFALO – After the disappointing sixth place last year, the Russian U20 national team arrived in the United States with enthusiasm and confidence after a successful camp.
The young hopefuls defeated KHL team Spartak Moscow on 17th December before their flight to America. The team had a camp in Jamestown, N.Y. where it faced Slovakia for the last exhibition game.
After an early Slovak lead, the Russians turned the game and defeated Slovakia 6-2 thanks to Maxim Kitsyn’s third-period hat trick on the day he also celebrated his 19th birthday.
“I just happened to be in time at the right place,” Kitsyn commented his three goals within 11 minutes.
Another terrific player was Igor Bobkov, who had 37 saves. And after the two wins the 192-cm (6' 4") tall goalkeeper is full of optimism.
Asked about his team’s potential in Buffalo, Bobkov is pretty clear about what the Russians can reach here. “The gold medal – no problem,” the young goalkeeper said after the game in Jamestown. “We just have to play our best hockey.”
Bobkov will play in his third IIHF event. He led Russia to the silver medals at the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship where he was selected best goalkeeper of the tournament.
He also was the starter in last year’s 2010 IIHF World U20 Championship where he had a 93% save percentage, but the team finished only sixth after losing the final-round games to Switzerland and Finland.
“We have to improve in the tactical aspect of the game,” he said and also wants to show what he’s learnt in the last 12 months when Russia opens the tournament against Canada on Boxing Day.
Canada – that’s also Bobkov’s new home.
After winning the Russian junior league MHL with the Metallurg Magnitogorsk organization last spring, the Anaheim Ducks draft pick transferred to the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
Transition proves to be not that easy as Bobkov is only the second Knights goalkeeper behind 18-year-old American netminder Michael Houser. In eight OHL games he had an 85.7% save percentage, but he hopes to be in the same shape he has been in the previous years in the Russian jersey.
Despite limited ice time, he doesn’t regret the transfer. “It’s faster in the OHL and there are more shots. I love this style of the game,” he said.
He might get the chance to show his skills tomorrow against a Team Canada that uses seven OHL players.