OTTAWA – Not even a bronze medal could erase Russia’s thoughts of what might have been.
The Russians defeated Slovakia 5-2 to win their second consecutive bronze medal at the world junior hockey championship, but they were still thinking about their heartbreaking 6-5 shootout loss to Canada in Saturday’s semifinal.
“It was really difficult for all of us to move forward,” said Nikita Filatov, who scored two goals. “The game against Canada is still in our head. We were so close.”
Russia’s post-game celebration was extremely low-key and Filatov admitted much of it had to do with the loss to Canada.
“Of course we’re happy to win a bronze medal,” said Filatov, who finished with eight goals in the tournament. “I think we were still thinking about the final. Our game was far from perfect and even bad at times.”
Defenceman Dmitri Kulikov said the team was happy with the bronze, but would always think about how close they came to playing for gold.
“It’s still so hard, we wanted to play for gold,” said Kulikov. “This game doesn’t really matter for us.”
For the Slovaks, a fourth-place finish was a huge accomplishment.
“We’re very happy to get as far as we did,” said Tomas Tatar. “The people in Slovakia will be elated with us finishing fourth.”’
Slovakia finished the tournament with a 3-4 record, but players feel they could have even done better.
“We were so close to being better,” said Tatar. “It’s a bit frustrating that we had a chance for a medal, but couldn’t do it.”
Pavel Chernov, Maxim Goncharov and Dmitri Kugryshev also scored for Russia. Vadim Zhelobnyuk stopped 20 shots for his fifth win of the tournament.
Martin Stajnoch and Tatar scored for Slovakia, while Jaroslav Janus faced 24 shots. Despite a 3-4 record, Janus was one of the tournament’s stars having allowed 21 goals on 190 shots. Only Latvia faced more shots with 232.
“I like facing a lot of shots,” said Janus, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “I think it was a good experience. I’m pretty happy with how I played at the tournament.”
Janus believes Slovakia’s fourth-place finish will go a long way in helping develop younger players.
“I think hockey will really go up in Slovakia,” said Janus. “Kids will be more excited to play because we showed we can compete against some of the bigger countries.”
While he was happy with his overall play Janus says he could have had a better finish to the tournament.
Russia opened the scoring at the four-minute mark of the first as Chernov beat Janus short side.
Russia made it 2-0 early in the second as Evgeni Dadonov caught Goncharov coming out of the penalty box. Goncharov broke in all alone and beat Janus with a great shot off his backhand.
Despite a number of good chances the Slovaks were struggling to find ways to beat Zhelobnyuk. Stajnoch finally found a way midway through the period as Tatar sent him a great cross-ice pass to the point where he fired a bullet that Zhelobnyuk never even saw until it was behind him. The pro-Slovakia crowd of 18,763 erupted after the goal.
With just over 30 seconds remaining Russia was able to regain its two-goal lead as Filatov scored on his own rebound.
Filatov scored his second of the game midway through the third beating Janus glove side.
Tatar scored the second goal for Slovakia banging in a shot from the back boards and Kugryshev made it 5-2 Russia, scoring into an empty net with less than two minutes remaining.
The Russians defeated Slovakia 8-1 during round-robin play.