The Under-18 Men’s Worlds Get Underway
The opening games of the Under-18 Men’s World Championship took place today, in the Slovakian towns of Poprad and Spišská Nová Ves, and Team Russia got off to a decent start. Dire through the first two periods against Sweden, but trailing only 1-0, the young Russians rebounded with three goals in the final stanza to win 3-1. Read on, for a look at the roster assembled by head coach Sergei Golubovich and his staff.
You may remember the controversy that accompanied Team Russia to last year’s U18s, but a quick recap in case you don’t: the Russian Under-18 team, which had been playing as a club in the country’s top junior hockey league (the MHL), was pulled from the 2016 tournament just days before the opening faceoff and replaced with the Russian Under-17 squad, including then-U17 coach Golubovich. The concern was over possible meldonium use among members of the U18 team, and although the whole thing turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, the Russian Hockey Federation was taking no chances at the time. The result was that Russia finished sixth at the 2016 tournament, which was fine under the unusual circumstances, but did represent a fifth straight year without a medal for Russia at the men’s U18 Worlds.
This year’s team, which will seek to break that drought, features a number of returning players from the squad that ended up contesting the 2016 tournament. Those players are marked with an asterisk. Here then is the roster, with players’ birth years, club teams, and leagues in brackets:
Dmitry Raiko (1999, MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Making his return to the Russian national team setup after previously appearing for the U16 team a couple of years ago, Raiko struggled a bit in his rookie MHL campaign this season (25 gp, .895 sv%).
Kirill Ustimenko (1999, Dynamo St. Petersburg [MHL]): Like Raiko, he was an MHL rokie this season, but Ustimenko didn’t struggle at all, posting a league-best .938 sv% in 27 games. He backed up Zhukov today against Sweden, but I hope he gets some playing time at some point during the playoffs.
Maxim Zhukov* (1999, Green Bay Gamblers [USHL]): One of the big factors in today’s win over Sweden, with 43 saves to keep Russia in the game. Zhukov posted a .913 sv% in 31 games for Green Bay this year, in his first North American season. Got lit up in two games at last year’s tournament, with an .830 sv% and a GAA north of eight.
Veniamin Baranov* (1999, Dynamo St. Petersburg [MHL]): 43 gp, 5-18-13 for Baranov in his rookie MHL campaign this season, after he had one assist in four games at last year’s tournament.
Georgy Dedov (1999, Russkie Vityazi Chekhov [MHL]): Already a giant at 6’3″, 200 lbs., he scored a reasonable 3-5-8 in 43 games in his first MHL season.
Danila Galenyuk (2000, Mamonty Ugry Khanty-Mansiysk [MHL]): One of two 2000 birthdays on the squad, in 2016-17 he jumped straight from Ugra’s U16 team to the MHL side, where he recorded a goal in 22 games.
Yevgeny Kalabushkin (1999, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg [MHL]): Showed a few scoring chops in Russia’s U16 league in 2014-15, but little since. He went point-less in 19 games this season between the MHL and the second-tier junior NMHL.
Semyon Perelyayev (1999, Ladia Tolyatti [MHL]): A very similar development arc to Kalabushkin’s, with just two assists in 30 MHL games this season. But Perelyayev drew first-pairing duty today versus Sweden, alongside Samorukov.
Mark Rubinchik* (1999, Saskatoon Blades [WHL]): His 2016-17 line of 63 gp, 0-23-23 in Saskatoon suggest that he is a playmaker at heart, a theory supported by earlier assist-heavy season in Dynamo Moscow’s youth system. Scored one goal in four games at the 2016 tournament, and is an assistant captain for 2017.
Dmitry Samorukov* (1999, Guelph Storm [OHL]): Samorukov scored five points in five games at last year’s tournament, and is wearing an “A” for Team Russia in 2017. His first season in the OHL saw him post a line of 4-16-20 in 67 games. One of Russia’s very important players at this tournament.
Yaroslav Alexeyev* (1999, Sherbrooke Phoenix [QMJHL]): Undersized, but he scored an excellent 24-28-52 in 60 games in his rookie QMJHL campaign. A point-per-game man (5 gp, 3-2-5) at last year’s U18 Worlds.
Mikhail Bitsadze* (1999, Dynamo Balashikha [VHL]): Split this season between Dynamo in Russia’s second-tier pro league (24 gp, 1-2-3) and MVD Balashikha in the MHL (8 gp, 1-1-2). He had three points in five games at last year’s U18 Worlds.
Ivan Chekhovich* (1999, Baie-Comeau Drakkar [QMJHL]): 26-33-59 in 60 games in his first year in North America will do just fine. Had one assist at least year’s U18 Worlds in five games, and assisted on both of Svechnikov’s goals today.
Alexander Klisunov (1999, Russkie Vityazi Chekhov [MHL]): Just 1-2-3 in 43 games in the MHL this season, although he has good scoring numbers from lower levels of youth hockey.
Pavel Koltygin (1999, Drummondville Voltigeurs [QMJHL]): Koltygin scored five points in 17 games for the U18 team in MHL play last year, then jumped to the Quebec league, where he put up a line of 22-25-47 in 65 games.
Alexei Lipanov* (1999, Dynamo Balashikha [VHL]): Like his team-mate Bitsadze, Lipanov split 2016-17 between the VHL and MHL. He scored 3-5-8 in 21 games in the pro league (great, given his age), and went 0-3-3 in 11 games at the MHL level. Lipanov wears the captain’s “C” at this tournament, after scoring three points in five games last year.
Maxim Marushev* (1999, Irbis Kazan [MHL]): The oldest player on this year’s team (Jan. 1 is his birthday), he impressed with three goals in five games at the 2016 tournament. Scored 5-10-15 in 37 games for Irbis in 2016-17.
Kirill Maximov* (1999, Niagara IceDogs [OHL]): Steadily improving in the OHL. After 54 gp, 6-15-21 for Saginaw in 2015-16, he scored 21-17-48 in 66 contests for Saginaw and Niagara this season. Maximov went 0-0-0 in four games at last year’s worlds, but is already off the mark in this one; his goal tied things for Russia against Sweden today early in the third period.
Ivan Muranov (1999, Dynamo Balashikha [MHL]): An MHL rookie this season, he scored 6-8-14 in 34 games.
Nikita Shashkov (1999, Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk [MHL]): Seemingly a defensive forward by trade, Shashkov has 17 points in 86 MHL games over two season. However, he did score two goals in five playoff games for Sibirskie Snaipery this year, so there may be some attacking skill in there yet to be unlocked.
Kirill Slepets (1999, Loko Yaroslavl [MHL]): Slepets actually played for the U18 team in the MHL last year (26 gp, 12-4-16). Scored 8-10-18 in 41 games in 2016-17 for Lokomotiv’s junior side. Recorded his first Worlds assist on Russia’s tying goal today.
Andrei Svechnikov* (2000, Muskegon Lumberjacks [USHL]): The youngest player on Team Russia (for the second straight year), and possibly the best. He came to North America in 2016-17 to join his older brother Yevgeny, a Detroit Red Wings prospect, and scored 29-29-58 in 48 games as a USHL rookie (third-highest points-per-game in the league). A massive scorer at every level through his youth hockey career, he is not NHL draft-eligible until 2018, but will be an eyeball-magnet for scouts nonetheless. Oh, and he scored twice — the winner and the empty-net clincher — for Russia against Sweden today (he had two goals in five games at last year’s tournament).
Alexei Toropchenko (1999, MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Led MVD in goals and points this year, with a line of 45 gp, 19-12-31, so definitely one to watch. He also got into one VHL game for Dynamo Balashikha, although he did not record a point.
Svechnikov will obviously garner most of the headlines at this tournament (with his performance versus Sweden today, he already is), and that is fair enough; everything on his admittedly short resume suggests a future star of the professional game. For my own part, I am very interested in seeing what goalie Ustimenko and defenceman Samorukov can do — promising players, both of them. And finally, I am intrigued to know what kind of performance we will get from the two forwards, Bitsadze and Lipanov, who spent significant time in the VHL this season. Neither scored spectacularly in the professional league, although given their ages their production was just fine, but I would like to see how useful their experience playing against adults will be.
Now at 1-0 in Group B after the win over Sweden, Russia returns to action on Saturday, against the United States. Games on Monday (Belarus) and Tuesday (Czechia) will round out the group stage at the U18 Worlds. We will have a very quick update here before the medal round begins.
Tomorrow, however — a KHL update! Thank you for reading!