After the juniors won against senior opposition in Finland, the pressure was on Russia’s first team to match that feat on home ice. Bragin largely resisted the temptation to stack his roster with proven international stars – apart from captain Vadim Shipachyov and 2018 Olympians Yegor Yakovlev and Alexei Marchenko on defence there were few players with extensive experience on the team. The youngsters from SKA St. Petersburg, where Bragin is head coach in this season’s KHL, featured prominently: Danila Galenyuk, Kirill Marchenko and Ivan Morozov, all 20, are making the step up from junior hockey this season. Another 20-year-old, Dmitri Voronkov of Ak Bars Kazan, was among the debutants on the Russian roster.
In game one against Sweden, it was another emerging talent who made the difference. Andrei Kuzmenko, 24, is becoming a key figure at SKA and he cancelled out Pontus Aberg’s second-period opener before returning to claim the shoot-out winner in the opening match-up. Game two saw Anton Burdasov get his first senior international goal in his 29th game for Russia before CSKA Moscow’s Maxim Mamin struck twice to seal a 4-1 win over the Czechs. Then Voronkov’s double paced a 5-1 victory against Finland to complete a successful weekend’s work for the host.
Much of Bragin’s roster is expected to be in contention for a World Championship call-up due to the delayed NHL campaign and the likely absence of most, if not all, of the Red Machine’s Trans-Atlantic regiment. And the emphasis at this tournament was on establishing a team identity that draws on the Soviet tradition. Defenceman Yakovlev, speaking about his two assists against Sweden, talked about ‘traditional Russian hockey, lots of passing’ when asked about the goals. And Bragin himself felt that the week he spent with his team saw his philosophy bearing fruit.
“We got to see our candidates for the World Championship at work and I was happy with most of the players. In the third game we got closer to the kind of hockey we want to see from the team,” he said.
“Different clubs have different tactics, but we want to play aggressive, attacking hockey. We couldn’t do that overnight, but by the third game a lot of it was working out for us.”
Russia’s opponents each managed one victory, with Sweden taking second place thanks to that shoot-out loss in Thursday’s opener. Head coach Johan Garpenlov reckoned his team had the better of the 3-3 tie in regulation but was critical of both the 4-1 win over Finland and the loss by the same scoreline against the Czechs.
“We needed a really good game from our goalie to stay in contention [against Finland],” Garpenlov told SVT. “[Anders] Lindback is calm and does not give up many rebounds.” That saved the Swedes in a poor first period against the Leijonat, but there was nothing to redeem the game against the Czechs. “We didn’t have that sharpness, the same focus. We reacted instead of acting,” Garpenlov added after Sunday’s defeat. “It’s all about the attitude to what you do in the game. We did not read the game, we did not go all the way, we lost the individual battles. All those classic errors. We did not come prepared for a game.”
For the Finns, meanwhile, a lack of goals proved costly. Despite bringing Julius Nattista, currently the leading scorer in Switzerland, and the KHL experience of Sibir’s Juuso Puustinen, Finland struggled for goals. A 4-3 win over the Czechs on day one was as good as it got for Jukka Jalonen’s team; subsequently there were just two goals in two games.
Harri Pesonen, who recently left Metallurg Magnitogorsk, scored one of them in the 5-1 loss against Russia. Going into the game, Finland had a theoretical shot at winning the tournament, but never looked capable of defeating the host nation. “We were a bit too shy at the start and we let them get a good grip of the game,” Pesonen told Helsingins Sanomat. “We let them play with the puck, and they love that.”
At the foot of the table, the Czechs had 10 rookies on their roster in Moscow. Among them, Pavel Prycha was playing in the second tier of Czech hockey a year ago. After a tough start, with losses to Finland and Russia, the team bounced back to beat Sweden 4-1 and head coach Filip Dusan pronounced himself happy with the contribution of his youngsters.
“It’s a big thing for these players when they can do it at this level,” Dusan said. “Of course, it’s nice feeling for us coaches as well, when we call on a player who was in the Chance Liga a year ago and he scores a goal against Sweden. That feels good.
“I’ve known Pavel for years, I had him in the youth team, and while he’s unobtrusive, he’s also an incredibly talented and smart defenseman. He stayed in Bohemia, kept putting in honest performances in the second tier and wasn’t afraid to play his game. At Ceske Budojovice, his club had coaches who believed in him, and that how you develop a defenseman.
“There’s a great chance that a lot of the young guys who went to Russia will be back for the next stage of the Euro Hockey Tour in Sweden.”
Poland, Hungary trade winsMuch of the other action scheduled for the weekend was cancelled due to COVID issues. However, there was some action in Katowice, where Poland and Hungary played twice. This was intended to be a four-team tournament with France and Ukraine involved. However, they both pulled out and back-up opposition from Latvia had to withdraw after positive tests for coronavirus within the team. Instead, the Poles and the Hungarians played a two-game series which saw the two countries share one win apiece.
The Poles struck first, taking a tight verdict on Dec. 17. Dominik Pas grabbed the winner five seconds from the end to snap a 1-1 tie. The other goals came in the first period, with Poland going ahead after 25 seconds thanks to Filip Komorski before Hungary tied it up on a power play goal from Peter Zsombor Garat.
The next day Poland made a fast start once again, taking the lead on 1:53 through Mateusz Michalski. Christopher Bodo tied the game early in the third before Krisztian Nagy scored twice in the third period to give the Magyars a 3-1 win.
|Euro Hockey Tour - Channel One Cup|
|17 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Finland||Czech Rep.||4-3|
|17 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Sweden||Russia||3-4 SO|
|19 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Finland||Sweden||1-4|
|19 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Russia||Czech Rep.||4-1|
|20 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Czech Rep.||Sweden||4-1|
|20 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Russia||Finland||5-1|
|Standings: 1. Russia 8; 2. Sweden 4; 3. Finland 3; 4. Czech Rep. 3.|
|17 Dec.||Katowice (POL)||Poland||Hungary||2-1|
|18 Dec.||Katowice (POL)||Poland||Hungary||1-3|