Early start
by Dhiren Mahiban|04 JAN 2019
Russia’s Dmitri Samorukov and Czech player Martin Kaut get tangled up.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Getting off to an early start was the key for Dmitri Samorukov and the Russians in the quarter-finals. The defenceman helped set up Grigori Denisenko’s first of the night just 5:36 into the first period and the Russians never looked back defeating Slovakia 8-3 to earn a berth in Friday’s semi-final against the Americans. 
“We were ready to play. What we tried to do, we tried to kind of make a couple goals in the first 10 minutes,” Samorukov explained. “We played a good three periods, we are happy with our game.”
Samorukov’s four points in five games is good for third amongst Russian defencemen in scoring. 
Russia knew their opponent would be the Americans prior to the conclusion of their game against the Slovaks, but it didn’t change their approach.
“When you’re looking at the first game, Sweden lost so we knew we will have a pretty hard game,” said Samorukov. “Every team wants to go in, right? Especially in playoffs. We just tried to play 100 per cent, especially in the first 20 minutes.”
Friday’s meeting between the Americans and Russians will be a rematch of the quarter-finals from the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo. The Americans defeated the Russians 4-2 before settling for a bronze medal. 
The two countries last met in a semi-final back in 2017 when the U.S. defeated Russia 4-3 in a shootout in Montreal before edging the host Canadians in the gold medal game. 
The Americans and Russians met prior to the start of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with the U.S. beating Russia 3-2 in pre-tournament competition in Kamloops back on 20th December.
Despite the recent failures, Samorukov and the Russians are confident heading into Friday.
“We played them in an exhibition game, right? We know there’s a couple good guys on this team, but it’s the whole team,” Samorukov said. “Doesn’t matter (about the past), different team. Different year, right? We’ll just play our best game. 
“We’re trying to play better and better every game so I think what we should do right now is forget about this (quarter-final) game.”
The 19-year-old blue liner is currently in his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm where he produced two goals and 15 assists in 30 games prior to joining his national junior team. 

Guelph’s head coach and general manager George Burnett has seen a different approach from Samorukov this season. 
“As a blue liner, I think probably came in thinking he’d be more of an offensive-type of player and has become a very dominant defensive player, but still has the ability to rush the puck and pass the puck and move the puck effectively and contribute offensively,” Burnett said. “I think his focus has maybe changed a little bit this year. Knowing that to play in the National Hockey League, in the near future, he’s probably got to be a real sound defender and puck mover and strong in his own end, I think his focus has certainly been in that area this year.”
A third-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Burnett credits the native of Volgograd for bringing stability to the Guelph blue line. 
“He plays big minutes. Probably one of the physically strongest, gifted skaters in the league, plays both ends of the rink very well, plays physical, eats up a lot of minutes,” said Burnett. “Blocks shots and kills penalties and plays in our league like he’s playing in on the international stage right now, which is very well.”
Samorukov says he’s in constant contact with the Oilers development staff on where he needs to improve and while playing in Edmonton is the end goal, he’s grown comfortable with his surroundings in Guelph.
“We have a pretty good team, we’ll try to make a run this year,” he said. “Probably we’ll do a couple of trades too. This team makes me feel like I’m at home. I’m happy with the coaching staff, they all try to help.
“I try to work on everything. When you’re young, you got to improve everything: skating, shooting - everything.”