Captain Nikita Chibrikov scored the winner with a bad-angle shot on the rush at 1:25 of overtime to lift Russia to a wild 7-6 comeback victory over the host U.S. in their tournament opener on Monday night.
"I saw the opportunity and just shot the puck," said Chibrikov, who also had two assists. "It was a good goal. It was a good effort from the team. We were able to change the way this game was played."
Russia rallied from a 5-1 second-period deficit to send this game to extra time. That matched the Czech Republic's U18-record biggest comeback from a 5-1 deficit versus Finland at the 2017 U18 Worlds, but the Czechs, unlike Russia, lost 6-5 in overtime.
"Emotions are still high right now when you lose a game like that," said U.S. head coach Dan Muse. "It's a tough pill for everybody to swallow, including staff and players. The biggest thing for us is going to be just moving on to that next game and making sure that we're in a good frame of mind when we get to work here tomorrow."
From big momentum shifts to edgy physical play, this run-and-gun affair truly had it all.
Russian ace Matvei Michkov, 16, scored the first two goals of his U18 Worlds career, as did Ivan Miroshnichenko.
For the Americans, Dylan Duke stepped up with two goals and Sasha Pastujov had a goal and two assists. Playmaking defenceman Lane Hutson distinguished himself with three assists.
"Good start, great first period, and then I think we kind of let the game get away from us," said U.S. blueliner Sean Behrens, who added a goal and two assists. "We got a little lackadaisical in the second and then it came back to bite us in the third there. So not the way we wanted, but we'll regroup tomorrow and we'll be better."
In the second period of this game alone, the two teams combined for seven goals. Each side had a pair of power-play markers on the night.
The always-powerful Americans are seeking their all-time record 11th gold medal. They last topped the podium in 2017, and got bronze in 2019. They’ve won 16 consecutive U18 Worlds medals, including nine golds, four silvers, and three bronzes.
Russia – with 11 medals, including three golds, five silvers, and three bronzes – last won gold in 2017. At the 2019 U18 Worlds, it settled for silver after a 4-3 overtime to the Swedes in Ornskoldsvik.
U.S. netminder Gibson Homer made his U18 Worlds debut as the surprise starter over Braden Holt. Final shots were even at 35 apiece in a real goalie nightmare.
It took just 2:56 for the U.S. to draw first blood, as Ryan Chesley’s right point shot caught the top corner, eluding Russian starter Kirill Gerasimyuk. Marek Hedjuk, the son of former Czech sniper Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche, drew the assist. The Comerica Center crowd – limited to 40 percent of capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions – roared with joy.
The Americans kept up their torrid early pace. At 5:24, on the power play, Duke converted Lane Hutson’s cross-crease pass in tight for a 2-0 lead.
Russia responded, striking back at 9:20 on the rush. Danila Yurov skated in over the blue line and sent a high wrister from the left side past Homer.
With under five minutes left in the first, Chibrikov threw a late, high hit on U.S forward Justin Janicke at the benches. That poor discipline earned the SKA-1946 St. Petersburg forward a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct for checking to the head.
"Guys are very young and emotions are sky-high," said Russian head coach Albert Leshyov. "So sometimes you can see this in junior hockey."
With the ensuing U.S. man advantage, Logan Cooley circled the Russian zone and sent the puck to Hutson at the blue line. He faked a slap shot before sending it across to Behrens, who snapped the puck high past Gerasimyuk’s glove at 16:44.
"It was a great pass from Sasha to Hutty up top and I just kind of saw the far side of the net open and ripped it," said Behrens.
The goals kept coming in the second period. Just 1:27 in, Ethan Straky ended Gerasimyuk's night between the pipes. The Notre Dame blueliner joined the rush and finished off Isaac Howard's great cross-ice pass. Leshyov promptly put backup Valeri Brinkman in net.
"I do believe that our starting goalie was a bit nervous," said Leshyov. "We decided to pull him out and it was one of the key points of the game."
However, Russia's goaltending change didn't pay immediate dividends. Sasha Pastujov made it 5-1 on the power play at 4:16, one-timing home a sweet feed from Hutson. The U.S. appeared to be in complete control, but that was misleading.
The Russians refused to surrender and peppered Homer with shots. At 6:16, Michkov, who could go #1 overall in the 2023 NHL Draft, scored with quick hands by Homer's right post. Vsevolod Gaidamak made it 5-3 at 8:09.
"They had some big shifts there in the second period that put us back on our heels, and we need to be better in terms of how we react to those types of shifts and getting our game back on track," Muse said.
Michkov zinged home a high short-side wrister at 13:09 to cut the deficit to 5-4, stunning the Comerica Center faithful.
At 16:37, Duke got to the front of the net and Pastujov's shot bounced off his body and in, putting the U.S. up 6-4.
"We've been playing together for a while and we trust each other," Pastujov said of his chemistry with Duke. "And we've built that trust over the years. Our center Logan Cooley is a vital part of our line as well. And we're just going to have to keep growing with each game this tournament."
Yet the red storm kept rising. With 48 seconds left in the frame, Miroshnichenko hammered home a power-play slapper to make it 6-5.
In the third period, the Russians continued pressing offensively. Yurov grabbed the puck right off the opening faceoff and dipsy-doodled in on goal alone, forcing Gibson to make a fine save.
With 5:16 left in regulation, Miroshnichenko tipped in Fyodor Svechkov's shot to knot the score at 6-6 as the Russian bench rejoiced.
Leshyov reflected on the comeback in classic Russian fashion: "I don't want to talk personally about any of the players from our team, because the result of the game that we won came from our players as a team, as a collective."
This was the first meeting between these two archrivals since Rodion Amirov’s shootout goal lifted Russia to a 3-2 semi-final victory at the 2019 U18 Worlds in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. The U.S. won its last three U18 Worlds preliminary-round games with Russia, dating back to 2016.
Russia's next opponent is Finland on Tuesday, while the Americans face newly promoted Germany on Wednesday.