MALMÖ – First-period goals from Mikhail Grigorenko and Eduard Gimatov and a 30-save performance by Andrei Vasilevski led Russia to a 2-1 win over Canada for bronze.
Russia remains a perfect 6-0 in bronze-medal games at the U20 while, for the first time since Hockey Canada introduced the Program of Excellence in 1982, Canada goes home without a medal for the second straight year.
"I wanted to win gold and the whole team did," said goalie Zachary Fucale. "This is unacceptable for us. You have to be at your best every night, and we weren't, and it cost us the tournament."
It's also the second straight year that the teams faced each other for third place, Russia winning both. "We beat them again, so it's a good time right now," said Grigorenko. "It's a tough game to prepare for, but once it starts you just play hockey and want to win the game."
"We came here to win gold, so I don't know if we were 100 per cent ready for today's game," said Bogdan Yakimov. "It wasn't our best game of the tournament, that's for sure, but we tried our best. Everyone is exhausted right now."
Although Canada had the better of the play in the first period, it was the Russians who headed to the dressing room after 20 minutes up 2-0. The lead was achieved through a little bit of luck.
Russia opened the scoring at 3:35 with a power-play goal. Grigorenko fired a hard pass from the sideboards to the front of the goal, but the puck hit defenceman Matt Dumba’s skate and went in past a surprised Zachary Fucale.
"It was a little bit lucky," Grigorenko admitted, "but I was trying to make a pass to Buchnevich and there were a lot of guys in front."
The pro-Canadian fans tried to rally the troops, and for several minutes Canada attacked with great effectiveness. The Russians, though, seemed to be playing rope-a-dope, and although they were trapped in their own end for long stretches, one which brought the fans to their feet in appreciation, they never appeared in disarray or likely to give up their lead.
And then in true rope-a-dope fashion, they struck back. Eduard Gimatov took a pass in the centre-ice area from Andrei Mironov, stepped in over the blue line and ripped a hard shot that beat Fucale cleanly over the shoulder while using Josh Morrissey as a screen. It was a shot that should have been stopped and put Canada in a considerable hole.
"There was no deflection," Fucale admitted. "He just scored. It’s something I have to stop. That was my bad, for sure."
"The first period was equal between two great rivals," Grigorenko noted, "but we were ahead 2-0. We were probably a little bit lucky, but we didn't have enough luck last game either."
That the second period was goalless was a product of Canada’s inability to put the puck in the net after creating good chances. Anthony Mantha came in on Vasilevski on a two-on-one, elected to shoot instead of pass, but meekly wristed a shot into the goalie’s right pad.
Soon after Sam Reinhart made a great pass from the boards to the backside of the play, but Griffin Reinhart fanned on a shot with the empty net staring at him.
The crowd roared to life at 7:10 of the final period when Canada finally scored. Charles Hudon made a pass in front to Josh Morrissey cutting through the slot. The puck went off his skate and beat Vasilevski cleanly.
Moments later, Hudon ripped a shot off the post, and then Russia took its third penalty of the game for too many men. The Canadians failed to tie the game with the advantage, but at least they were back in it emotionally.
Russia, though, sucked the life out of Canada with every shift, and any decent Canadian shot was stopped with confidence by their goalie.
"Vasilevski was excellent," Grigorenko said. "He's probably been the best player in the tournament. He won the game for us."
"We scored on our chances, and they didn't," said Yakimov. "I think that was the difference."
"It’s tough," said Canadian captain Scott Laughton. "You can’t put it into words. When you put on this crest and try to represent your country, and can’t even bring a medal back to Canada for the people who’ve been cheering for you and have 4,000 fans come down here, it’s heartbreaking."