Entering the 2016 U18 IIHF World championships in Grand Forks, ND, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Russia team. The entire Russian team, including the coaching staff, was banned from the U18 Worlds.
According to AllHockey.Ru, a majority of the team tested positive for meldonium, a banned metabolic modulator. With little time to spare, the Russian’s U18 team was replaced with their U17 team. With the ban, only three of Team Russia’s players were born in 1998.
Younger Russians Hold their Own
During the first two periods, the younger Russians held their own against the Americans. After Team USA rushed to a two-goal lead with goals from Clayton Keller and James Sanchez, the Russians settled down and started to push back.
Team Russia received some momentum off of an aggressive forecheck. At the 02:21 mark of the second period, Team Russia tied the game with a goal from Ivan Kozlov. After Team Russia’s second goal, things started going their way.
Unfortunately, that was all the closer Team Russia would get. Team USA would put the foot on the gas and score six-unanswered goals to beat Team Russia 8-2. Despite the one-sided victory, USA’s head coach Danton Cole was impressed with Team Russia.
“Russia is a heck of a hockey country as we know,” Cole said. “I thought those guys competed and hung in there. It was a good game.”
The Russian squad also gained the respect of the American players.
They’re really good team,” Team USA Forward Kieffer Bellows said. “Give them credit. They’re a good Russian team. I felt like we just came out there, we played USA hockey.
The Play of the Game
With the game tied in the second period, Team Russia had the momentum and they were pressing to score the go-ahead goal. Just like that, the momentum would swing back to Team USA when their goalie Jacob Oettinger would make a huge ten-bell save to keep the game tied at 2-2. Shortly after, Team USA would get the game-winning goal from forward Clayton Keller scored at the 16:18 mark of the second period to give them a 3-2 lead. Team USA’s Bellows would score 14 seconds later.
“I thought the Russians did a nice job,” USA head coach Danton Cole said. “They stayed with it and kept hanging in there and hanging around, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a 2-2 game. I thought Jacob (Oettinger) made a really big save on that rebound, that backdoor play. I thought our guys kind of fed off that a little bit. Then, all of a sudden it was 4-2.”
In retrospect, Oettinger’s back door save was the play of the game. Before the save, the Russians were pressing hard and taking the game to Team USA. After Keller’s snipe, it was all Team USA the rest of the way. Oettinger was solid in net all night long and stopped 19-21 shots.
Keller Makes an Impression
One player that stood out during Team USA’s rout of the Team Russia was forward Clayton Keller. The dynamic forward would score the first goal of the game on his first shot. Keller would also score the game-winning goal for team USA. For his efforts in game-one, Keller was named Team USA’s best player. Coach Cole was impressed with Keller’s play against the Russians.
“He’s probably, if not the smartest, one of the smartest guys I’ve coached in the six years I’ve been at the NTDP,” Cole said. “He has that. He has a scorer’s drive, where he wants to score on every shift. But where he’s really done a good job is in the weight room. His dynamic component really gives him some separation. That’s really changed in the last year. He’s really spent a lot of time there. “He’s always on the attack. He’s a tremendous competitor.”
Finally, Keller wasn’t the only one that had a huge night for Team USA. Forward Kailer Yamamoto added two goals and two assists to pace Team USA.