Two days after the women’s team collected their gold medal, the men’s side made it two-for-two for Russia at the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty today. Team Russia breezed through their opening round, but faced stiffer competition once the semifinal arrived. Read on, for a full account!
Team Russia for this tournament (roster here — link is a PDF, and note that some of the club teams listed for players are out of date) was drawn from the ranks of the VHL, the country’s second-tier professional league, and featured a number of players with at least a little bit of KHL experience. The vast majority of the selections either play now for THK Tver now, or have done so recently — no surprise that Russia’s Universiade entry was coached by THK bench boss Vladislav Khromykh. There were also several players from Sokol Krasnoyarsk, the farm team of the KHL’s Amur Khabarovsk, (interestingly, Krasnoyarsk will host the next Winter Universiade, in 2019).
Russia’s path through the group stage was an easy one, beginning as the South Korean team was swept aside 14-0 in the opening game. Team Latvia put up more of a struggle in Russia’s second game, but even there the final score of 7-1 was not close. Remarkably, the group stage closed with another 14-0 victory, this time over Japan. Perhaps the most stunning statistic from the three games was the shot total: Team Russia outshot its opponents 174-42, an average difference of 43 shots per game.
A quirk of the schedule meant that just one day after Russia and Japan had faced each other in the group stage, they were at it again in the quarterfinal round. The game was once again a rout, although less so than the previous meeting; 9-2 read the final score, with four points from Sokol’s Dmitry Kirillov leading the way.
In all honesty, and with all due respect to their group stage opponents, it was only at this point that the real work began for Team Russia, as they faced the Canadians in the semi-final. The game was a chippy affair between the two old rivals, but Russia carried the play early on, outshooting Canada 9-4 in the first period and taking the lead on a goal by another Sokol player, defenceman Stanislav Zabornikov. The second period was tighter, but Russia nonetheless increased the lead, as former THK forward Artyom Osipov, now in the Ak Bars Kazan system, struck six minutes in. In the third, Khromykh’s team re-asserted itself, outshooting Canada 16-5, and taking a 3-0 lead thanks to Andrei Yerofeyev of Chelmet Chelyabinsk. Ivan Ivanov, who began the season with THK before moving to Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk, then sealed the deal with an empty-netter. The only dark cloud for Team Russia: with fifteen seconds left in the game, Guillaume Asselin of the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières broke through to spoil goalie Ilya Andryukhov’s shutout bid. Four-one the final, though, and Russia was through to face the host Kazakhs in the gold medal game today.
Andryukhov had played all but 20 minutes of Russia’s tournament through the semi-final, so it was no shock that he got the call for the final as well. The 26-year-old was a full-time KHL backup goalie through November and December of this season with Amur, and his .935 save percentage in five games in the big league was impressive. With Sokol in 2016-17, he has posted the third-best sv% in the VHL: .944 in 20 games.
Andryukhov’s expertise would be needed in the final. Opposing him in the Kazakh net was 21-year-old Sergei Kudryavtsev of the VHL’s Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk club. Kudryavtsev has spent most of this season with Altai-Torpedo of the Kazakh league, but has gotten into 10 VHL games, where his .944 sv% matches Andryukhov’s. At Universiade, he came into the final having played two games and most of a third, allowing only a single goal in that span on 48 shots. And Kudryavtsev had prior Universiade experience as well, having been the backup for the 2015 final, when the same two teams met and Russia came out as 3-1 winners.
For the first two periods of the 2017 final, the Russian and Kazakh squads battered away at each other without much effect, as both goalies were well and truly on their respective games. Russia led narrowly on the shot clock after 40 minutes, 19-16, but the score remained stubbornly at 0-0. In the third period Team Russia turned up the heat, outshooting Kazakhstan 16-5 and finally overcoming the staunch resistance of Kudryavtsev. The goal came early in the final frame, when a mad scramble in front of the Kazakh net saw the puck eventually make its way to the stick of Daniil Ilyin. The 21-year-old, who has split this season between the KHL’s Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and their VHL farm team, HK Sarov, roofed his shot to give Russia a 1-0 lead.
That was all they could get — Kudryavtsev shut the door from then on — but it was also all they would need. There would be no late spoiling of Andryukhov’s shutout this time, and the game came to an end at 1-0. A second straight gold for Russia and — to their credit — a second consecutive silver for the Kazakhs.
The final may have been a thriller, but Russia’s dominance meant that the early stages of the tournament lacked something in terms of drama. Despite the lesser competition, however, there were some notable performances from Russian players. Dynamo Moscow prospect Andrei Alexeyev led the team in scoring (6 gp, 5-8-13), but it is goalie Andryukhov who may have written the most interesting story. While his workload was not heavy, with only 90 shots faced in 340 minutes, he stopped 86 of those attempts, and there’s nothing wrong with that sort of performance at all. While at 26 he can no longer really be labeled a prospect, when we combine his Universiade play with the strong numbers he has put up elsewhere this season, we do have to wonder if he not might get a long look in the KHL at some point.
The goal for the Russian Hockey Federation as it gets set to host the 2019 Winter University Games was two gold medals, and that has been duly achieved for the second straight time. The pressure is most assuredly on now to make it a hat-trick for both men and women at those 2019 Games in Krasnoyarsk, and it will be interesting to see how Russia goes about it. Thank you for reading!