Sergei Ivanov has played nine international tournament games in his career. He's 8-0-1 in that span. He has taken Russia to a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games and, now, a U-18 World Championship gold medal game as well.
How's that for a resume?
Ivanov is one of the youngest goaltenders in the tournament as a 2004-born netminder, but you couldn't tell that from the way he plays. The talk of Russia has been all Matvei Michkov, and rightfully so. But Ivanov has been just as important, sitting second with a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage. Ivanov has been huge in every start for Russia, including a 52-save effort in an overtime loss to Finland earlier in the tournament, and made some timely stops late in the Finnish rematch to move Russia into the championship game.
Heading into the medal round of the U-18s, there hasn't been a clear top goaltender, but Ivanov has been just as close as you could expect to meet that criteria – and he can return next year, too. Canada's Benjamin Gaudreau, a top prospect for the 2021 draft, is also a top contender.
"(Ivanov) has been so underrated," a scout said prior to Russia's game against Finland on Wednesday. "I don't think many people knew what to expect, especially after not getting the starting gig against USA to start the tournament. But he's been good ever since."
The lead-up to the tournament wasn't pretty for Ivanov. Ivanov was one of four goalies to suit up with with SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova, a team that struggled in the Russian U-20 league this past season. Ivanov posted a 4-16-5 record but his .921 save percentage was the best among 2004-born goalies in the MHL – only three goalies that young saw at least 10 games of action this season, so it's impressive that he split the net with fellow U-18 member Kirill Gerasimyuk.
The Russians brought two 2003-born goalies to Texas in Valeri Brinkman and Gerasimyuk. Gerasimyuk has been mentioned in scouting circles as a potential top 90 pick at the draft this year, but he was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in the opening game against USA and never returned to the crease. Ever since, Russia has put its faith in their underaged option and Ivanov hasn't let them down, helping hold the fort to prevent a Finnish comeback on Wednesday night to secure a spot in the championship game.
Russian goaltending has been so hit-or-miss at the junior level over the past decade – even Yaroslav Askarov has struggled internationally in the past. So to get the performances from Ivanov that the team has gotten has been a good boost for this team.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 157 pounds by the IIHF, Ivanov doesn't come close to having ideal NHL size, but the athleticism is definitely there. Ivanov's glove hand is noticeably quick and while his five-hole is a weakness and he tends to fall down more often than other goalies, he battles to make every save until the very end.
"Just when you think the play is over, just when you think the puck is in the net... he comes out of nowhere to make the save," a Russian scout said. "He's got that old-school Hasek vibe to him, maybe more of a hybrid of classic and modern like Anton Khudobin."
Goalies that rely too much on athleticism can have a challenge at the next level, and that's why very few goalies under 6-foot-0 ever become NHL starting goalies. It's far too early to be talking about Ivanov's future as a No. 1 goalie in North America, but at the very core, Ivanov has a tremendous ability to do his job: making saves against the world's best teenagers.
"He moves quite well post-to-post and does a good job of re-directing pucks into the corner with his blocker," another scout said. "His rebound control can be shaky when he does that but he doesn't mess up on his recovery often."
Watch how often the Russians go over to offer him a stick-tap: the players truly appreciate the effort he has put in.
"Everyone on this team praises Sergei Ivanov for his game," Russian forward Matvei Michkov said. "He was unbelievable. He was keeping us in the game every day of the tournament. He's probably our most important player."
Goalies are hard to predict for any NHL draft, especially a year in advance. Early top goalie candidates for 2022 include Charles-Edward Gravel and Tyler Brennan, Canada's third goalie this year, and Swedish backup Hugo Havelid. Ivanov has emerged as someone to watch for the draft a year from now and he should further be able to showcase himself with Russia's U-18 team again in various events next year.
Ivanov's focus right now is taking home gold against the pre-tournament favorites from Canada, but regardless of the result on Thursday, he has made his presence known on the international stage once again.