Applause for Andrei

Goalie Vasilevski earns plaudits

18.05.2014
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Russian goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevski makes a save in the game against the United States. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Russia's young goalie Andrei Vasilevski is back in action on Sunday with a view to continuing his eye-catching World Championship debut campaign.

Russia's 19-year-old goalie Andrei Vasilevski returns to the starting line-up for tonight's game against Germany looking to further enhance his burgeoning credentials.

Last week his stunning World Championship debut made him the talk of Minsk as he pulled off 39 saves in a crushing 6-1 victory over the USA.

Even though he remains in a supporting role to Sergei Bobrovski at this competition, his showing has alerted North American hockey to the quality of the young player acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL draft.

Vasilevski is due to swap Salavat Yulayev Ufa for the sunshine of Florida in the coming season, and team USA coach John Laviolette has already given the newcomer his seal of approval: “We had lots of looks and lots of opportunities at the net and Vasilevski made some big saves for his team,” he said after the game. “At times it didn't bounce our way but when we did get pucks on his net he made the saves for his team.”

Back in Russia hopes are higher than ever for Vasilevski, with some commentators even evoking the name of the great Vladislav Tretiak.

Olympic champion Alexander Pashkov hailed the youngster’s nerveless showing against the Americans and pointed out similarities with the all-time great.

“Tretiak also broke into the national championship and the national team when he was very young,” Pashkov said. “Like him, Vasilevski has great natural ability and last season he was the strongest goalie in the KHL. You could also see this in the last two World Junior Championships. I’m sure he can become a world class player.”

Vasilevski himself admitted that his task was made much easier by his team-mates’ free-scoring form at the other end, he had plenty of work to do for himself, none more so than during an extended 5v3 power play where he pulled off five saves in quick succession as the Americans sought a way back into the game.

For the youngster, keeping busy was key to settling those big match nerves. “It’s good that they got lots of shots because I was always in the game,” he said. “The hardest thing for me was not worrying about the occasion, and the more they shot at me the less nervous I felt.”

Vasilevski is one of the beneficiaries of Oleg Znarok’s new regime: he earned his first call-ups to Russia’s senior squad when the ex-Dynamo Moscow head coach took over behind the bench at the end of March and cemented his credentials with a shut-out in a 6-0 thrashing of the Czechs in the last stage of the Eurotour.

The youngster first made an impact on Znarok rather earlier though, back in January 2013 when he made his KHL debut for Salavat Yulayev and shut out Znarok’s Dynamo team to snatch a 1-0 win. That game also saw him stepping into the skates of his father – also called Andrei – who stood between the piping in Ufa in the 1990s. Since then he’s established himself as Salavat Yulayev’s first-choice goalie, helping the team to the Eastern Conference finals where he became only the second goalie of the season to shut-out the potent Metallurg Magnitogorsk offence before finally having to settle for second place in the Russian championship and third in the KHL.

The phlegmatic Znarok, meanwhile, wasn’t inclined to wax lyrical about his goalie after the USA game. When asked what he thought of Vasilevski’s display, Znarok chuckled: “What did you think?” He also added that he was doubtful that preferred starter Sergei Bobrovski. The Columbus Blue Jackets' goalie returned to the starting line-up against Kazakhstan and Latvia before being handed a rest on Sunday as Russia played back-to-back games over the weekend.

But while Vasilevski might be playing a supporting role for now, this bright young talent looks well-placed to become a fixture between the piping in future years.

ANDY POTTS

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