Thanks to Washington Capitals draft selections Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitri Orlov, Russia is back on the junior hockey map at the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship being held in Buffalo, N.Y.
Kuznetsov, a 2010 first-round pick (26th overall), scored late in the third period and again in overtime to lead Russia back from a 3-1 deficit over the final three minutes of regulation in their quarterfinal game with Finland.
Orlov, chosen in the second round of the 2009 draft (55th overall), is the second leading scoring defenseman at the tournament with one goal and eight assists in the first nine games. He had three assists in a preliminary round victory over Norway and added one goal and two assists in a win against the Czech Republic.
Both are among the top 10 point-getters among the 10 teams entering Wednesday’s gold medal game, where Russia will face Canada.
It’s been a long way back for Russia in this tournament. The Russians finished sixth last year in Saskatoon winning just three games—their first year without a medal since 2003-04, when they finished fifth.
Kuznetsov, at 6’, 172 pounds, can skate and use his body effectively as well as shoot the puck. Playing in his second season for Chelyabinsk Traktor in the Kontinental Hockey League, he has scored six goals with three assists in 23 games.
He was a silver medalist as captain of Russia at the 2009 Under-18 championships, scoring five goals and seven assists over seven games and is in his second year at the Under-20 games, though he doesn’t turn 19 until May 5. Kuznetsov was named Russia’s Player of the Game for the preliminary round victory over Norway when he had a goal and an assist with a game-high nine shots on goal.
But it was his highlight-reel late-game and overtime heroics in the quarterfinals where Kuznetsov truly put his personal stamp on the tournament.
“When the best teams play, it sometimes comes down to who is more lucky,” said Kuznetsov through an interpreter after that game. “I think we were just lucky tonight.”
“I trained hard from the summer because one of my goals was to get a medal at the World Juniors. I was tired of coming back (home) from big tournaments and winning nothing and everybody is asking what happened—I just want to win. And in the hockey world our team is not as respected as it was before, so it also is motivation.”