Faced with an inferior opponent in the top-tier debutante France, Russia spread its powerful offense around as seven different players scored in a big 7-1 win in front 6771 loud and enthusiastic fans.
The opening ceremony, which occurred on the ice of the Traktor Ice Arena, was full of well-known Russian tropes: a space-launch-like countdown (because Russia owns space, as we all know), hard rock riffs with scenes of Russian hockey triumphs projected on the ice, and, of course, the requisite speeches by the local and Russian Hockey power brokers. Including, obviously, Vladislav Tretiak, whose long list of hockey achievements, akin to a full royal styling, was rolled out to a thunderous ovation.
But, with all due respect to space themes, hard rock, and official speeches, the fans who filled the Chelyabinsk barn were there to listen to a different sort of music. Namely, the soulful romance song By the Long Road (better known in the West as Gene Raskin’s adaptation Those Were the Days), what with its reminiscences of an old, seven-string guitar “that tortured me through the nights.” These oddly nostalgic lyrics full of longing for the heady days of the past comprise the Russian goal song, because of course they do.
It was the French, as it happened, who had to travel the long road to Chelyabinsk only to be tortured, in a purely hockey sense, by the whirlwind that was the Russian attack. It took the home team exactly no time at all to get settled, as their first offensive rush ended up with a shot ringing off the crossbar, but the first goal was only scored at 6:06 of the first period, with Russia on the power play. It was Semyon Kizimov who deftly picked up a rebound near the right post and chucked the puck into the open net to open the scoring.
The Russian power play, as well as the Russian five-on-five, followed the same general pattern, with five Russians situating themselves comfortably about the offensive zone and sending the puck on a merry-go-around route until the French heads were spinning sufficiently for the home team to attempt a shot. At times, the puck wouldn’t leave the zone for several minutes, with the French content on sitting back, give Russia all the space it needed, and hope for a chance to counter. They didn’t seem to have much of a choice, as the Russians appeared to possess a different speed from what the visitors were capable of.
Two minutes after Kizimov’s goal another whirlwind of activity was punctuated with Ruslan Iskhakov’s point-blank one-timer after a beautiful pass from Ivan Morozov. More Russian circle dance in the 14th minute produced a thundering slap shot by Yegor Zamula, which found its way to the back of the net thanks to Spiridonov, a fellow Yegor, who provided a timely screen in front. Seconds later, a spot of glorious Russian forechecking yielded Kirill Marchenko an easy attempt from close range, which he parlayed into a blocker-side wrister for a 4-0 lead.
“We were a little nervous, since we had never played in front of so many fans”, said Zamula.
It was only the stellar play of the French goaltender Valentin Duquenne that kept the score from getting really embarrassing before the first period was complete. Under the circumstances, being only down four wasn’t a bad result for France. Though, of course, Chelyabinsk’s choice for the musical accompaniment to French penalties (“Time for you to go home, it’s getting dark outside”) was more than a little suggestive.
“Those long attacking sequences tend to relax us a bit”, said Marchenko after the game. “You get a sense of overconfidence, start thinking that the game is won. But we played our hockey. We need to keep playing and scoring.”
To the credit of the French, while they looked thoroughly outmatched in speed and skill, they never gave up. Though the Russian goaltender Amir Miftakhov wasn’t exactly overworked, he did have to make a couple of tough saves in the second period. Not nearly as many as Duquenne, though, whose heroic efforts could have been enough against a slightly less powerful foe.
“I was ready for this. The (pre-tournament) game against the US helped”, said Duquenne after the contest. “I was just tyring to stay focused and keep my head in the game. There were so many shots!”
In one memorable sequence in the second frame, the French netminder made two consecutive stops with his facemask and barely seemed bothered. Of course, the French didn’t leave the building without scoring a goal of their own, with less than two minutes left, when Pierrick Dube tipped a centering pass by Timothe Quarron past Miftakhov.
None of it was enough, however. Even after slowing down a touch, the Russians kept on coming. Vladislav Mikhailov and Pavel Zavgorodni scored in the second period, and Morozov added a shorthanded tally in the third after a marvelous takeaway by Marchenko.
“It’s too bad we allowed that goal in the end”, said Zamula. “It would’ve been great to get Amir the shutout and make him happy. And, maybe, the coaches wouldn’t have had any issues.”
The coaches issues, to the extent there were any, didn’t appear to be numerous.
“There was a bit of nervousness”, said head coach Alexander Zybin. “We have achieved the result, but I am not happy with the quality of play in the third period. Everyone tried to score, forwards and defensemen. It’s the job of the latter to defend. We told them everyone must do their own job.”
The main issue was the injury to Iskhakov who came out of the game in the first period.
“He hit the boards when he tried to skate around an opponent”, said Zybin. “His leg popped out. He is at the nearest hospital now, getting it evaluated.”
France’s next test will come on Friday against Finland, while Russia will square off against Czech Republic on Saturday.
Article source: http://u18worlds2018.iihf.hockey/en/news/rus-fra/