Thriller in Sochi

U18: USA posts wild comeback, defeats Russia in shootout

26.04.2013
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Bolshoi Ice Dome Sochi  Russia

JT Compher's shootout goal in the semi-final sent the defending champions back to the gold medal game for the fifth time in a row. Photo: Francois Laplante / HHOF-IIHF Images

Tyler Kelleher had the winning penalty shot, setting up a showdown with Canada for the 2013 IIHF U18 World Championship gold medal.

Kelleher, taking the first shot for USA, converted the opening shootout attempt. Russian Sergei Tolchinski's effort was saved by the pad of Thatcher Demko in the follow up. Anthony Louis nearly lost the puck and was stopped by Igor Shestyorkin, but Pavel Buchnevich was in turn shut down by Demko, giving USA a chance to end the game.  With the game on his stick, captain JT Compher beat Shestyorkin with a shot under the Russian goaltender's glove, sending the United States to yet another U18 gold medal game, its fifth in as many years. 

"I had an idea of what I was going to do with the shot, he gave me some room and I was able to get it in," said Compher.

"We definitely didn't make it easy on ourselves, they are a great team and they played well the whole tournament, we're just happy to get a victory and stay alive."

A wild overtime was preceded by an even wilder third period. Just 4:04 into the frame, after two great saves by Russian netminder Igor Shestyorkin, the puck came straight out to Tommy Vanelli who fired a low shot past a sea of legs and into the net, knotting the game up 2-2.

Around the five minute mark, a penalty on forward Vyacheslav Leshenko gave Team USA a golden opportunity to win the game.

But the Russians managed to kill off the penalty, and Leshenko redeemed himself immediately by taking the puck along the boards and firing what seemed like a harmless shot at U.S. goaltender Thatcher Demko. But Demko did not slide along the crease fast enough to meet the shot and the puck squeezed through giving Russia the 3-2 lead.

"I really messed up there, I thought he'd carry the puck around and he caught me off guard with a good shot," said Demko. "But I had full confidence that my teammates were going to get one back for me, though I wasn't feeling too good after that."

But with 2:05 to go, a wraparound shot by Anthony Louis looked to be saved by Shestyorkin, however the referee signalled a goal, and on further review the puck bounced off the post and ricocheted off the goaltender's leg before going in, tying the game 3-3 and sending the USA bench wild. 

"Coach said just to crash the net, and I was lucky enough to be able to get a handle on it and bank it in," said Louis. 

When asked about the goal, Demko said after the game: "I already told him 'dinner's on me'"

A ten-minute 4-on-4 followed, with neither team able to finish the game off. With 3:29 to go in the extra frame and the States putting on most of the offence, USA defenceman Will Butcher was whistled for a hook. But the States manages to kill off the penalty and force a shootout. 

"We were relaxed in the moments when the United States scored, our concentration was not high enough and we weren't able to use our chances, because we could have won that game in overtime," said Shestyorkin. 

While the U.S. nearly had twice as many shots as the Russians, the Americans could never get too comfortable on the attack as one missed pass would send the aggressive Russian forwards streaking the other way. 

Throughout the game, the U.S. defence tried to stay keyed in on Russian captain Valeri Nichushkin, at first succeeding in harrying the big Russian forward and forcing him into committing turnovers.

But, down 1-0 in the second period, Russia was gifted with a two minute 5-on-3 after simultaneous hooking and slashing calls on Gage Ausmus and JT Compher respectively. With 15 seconds left on the penalties, Pavel Buchnevich fired a shot from the high slot straight to the back of the net to tie the game.

Then, with the U.S. just starting to put on some offensive pressure, Nichushkin got the puck and took off for the USA goal, outskating both defenders and cutting to the net to beat Demko with a forehand deke.

Going into the game, the defending champions United States had had an up and down preliminary round, losing first to Russian and also to Finland to go into the playoffs as the third seed in Group A.

The pressure would fall on the American defence and goaltender Thatcher Demko, who gave up four goals to Russia in the opening game.

The team was tested early, with defenceman Tommy Vanelli using his body to block what would have been an easy goal after Demko was on his stomach and unable to guard the net. After that the Americans did a good job defensively to curb the surge of momentum for the Russians through the first ten minutes of the game, playing in front of a packed crowd at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

"We have to take our chances to score, the game was a beautiful one but we could have scored at least four times in that first period," said Russian head coach Igor Kravchuk. 

Then the U.S. caught the break they needed when Ivan Barbashev was whistled for boarding. After a shot by USA defenceman Will Butcher rang off the post, a gritty effort in front of the net by Mike McCarron put goaltender Igor Shestyorkin on his back and unable to stop Tyler Kelleher from sneaking in on the loose puck and scoring the game’s first goal.

And now, the States have a chance to claim an incredible fifth straight gold medal, and eighth overall. Standing in their way are the Canadians, who last year were sent to the bronze medal game by the U.S. in a 2-1 victory at the 2012 U18 semi-final. 

If tonight's game is any indication Sunday night should be a thriller. 

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