Despite their incredible rivalry at the U20, senior World Championship, and Olympic levels, this is only the second meeting for gold between the nations at the U18. The first came in 2008 and was a lopsided 8-0 win for Canada. That winning team included Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, and Matt Duchene. The Russian lineup included Dmitri Kulikov, Dmitri Orlov, and Nikita Filatov.
Road to Gold
Canada has yet to trail during the tournament and has been tied 0-0 or led for every minute of every game except a five-minute span midway through yesterday’s 8-1 win over Sweden when the score was 1-1. The Canadians are 6-0, winning all games in regulation. Oddly, their greatest adversary was Latvia, which held them to four goals in a 4-2 loss.
Russia has been a bit more dramatic and uneven. It made a stunning rally to beat the U.S., 7-6 in overtime in their first game, and then lost to Finland in a penalty-shot shootout. Yesterday’s wild 6-5 win over the Finns was anything but a straight line.
Canada’s Ben Gaudreau has been effective and uncomplicated. No goals that he should have stopped. No bad-angle shots that quirted through or that were of the “should have stopped” variety. No bobbled puck behind the net or over-playing a shot and sliding into the corner of the rink. He has played four of the team’s six games, and allowed eight goals. He’ll start for Canada.
Sergei Ivanov sat in the press box while his two partners fought the puck in the team’s 7-6 win over the Americans to start the tournament, and he cemented his status as the number-one man the next game. Yes, Finland won, 4-3, thanks to the PSS, but Ivanov stopped 55 of 56 shots and was sensational. He’s been in goal ever since and will get the nod tonight for Russia.
Canada has scored 12 goals with the extra man, which averages out to two per game. Russia ranks third with 10, so both teams know how to get the puck to the net with the man advantage.
Canada also has the best penalty kill in the tournament, having surrendered only four goals on 26 short-handed situations (better than 84 per cent), and the Russians aren’t far behind, having given up five goals on 20 chances (75 per cent).
Perhaps more important, Canada has incurred 27 minor penalties to Russia’s 22. Given the quality of scorers on both teams, staying out of the box will be critical to victory.
Canada has given up only 142 shots in six games, an average of just 24 a game. Russia has allowed 186, more than another game’s worth and an average of 31. Canada has also recorded a whopping 261 shots on goal, by far the most, while Russia is third in this category as well at 210.
Perhaps more significantly, Canada’s blueliners have contributed significantly to the team’s offence, which has scored a total of 46 goals. Corson Ceulemans and Olen Zellweger have seven points for Canada, while Brandt Clarke has six. Canada also has five goals from its defencemen while Russia has but two of its total of 38.
Canada’s forwards have one gear—relentless. Averaging almost eight goals a game, they have seldom taken their collective foot off the gas and have four lines that can score. Having said that, most of the offence has come from its top two lines. Incredibly, 15-year-old Connor Bedard leads the team with 12 points, while Shane Wright and Mason McTavish have 11.
Russia has proven it can score in buckets as well, though. Its offence is led by 16-year-old Matvei Michkov, who leads all players with 13 points. Tied with him is teammate and captain Nikita Chibrikov, who had two goals and an assist in last night’s semi-finals win over Finland.
In all, ten players have at least 10 points in the tournament—four Canadians, four Russians, and two Finns—and any of these might win the scoring title by the end of day.
In the End
Coming into the tournament, scouts were focused on the embarrassment of riches that was Team Canada. The players have rightly and impressively lived up to the hype. The Russians came in with few top prospects for the upcoming NHL draft, and as such went under the radar until Michkov started scoring.
In the end, both teams arrived at the same place—the gold-medal game—in different manners, which makes the outcome of tonight’s game all the more curious—and all the more mysterious.