International Ice Hockey Federation

Russia wins physical contest

Russia wins physical contest

Merkusheva shutout backstops Russians to semis

Published 12.01.2017 20:18 GMT+1 | Author Derek O'Brien
Russia wins physical contest
PREROV, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 11: Russia's Valeria Merkusheva #30 makes the save while teammate Yelena Provorova #19 battles with the Czech Republic's Barbora Machalova #17 during quarter-final round round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
A pair of second-period goals and a 33-save shutout by Valeria Merkusheva paced Team Russia to a 2-0 quarter-final victory over the Czech Republic.

Speaking about her shutout, Merkusheva said: “I was thinking about it right from the start of the game. The most difficult part was the last five minutes when they had the power play and the fans were throwing things onto the ice. That was unusual and made it difficult to concentrate, but I managed.”

Indeed, it was a wild game with more game misconducts than goals between two traditional hockey powers who added another emotional chapter to their long-standing rivalry.

The Czechs gave it a great effort in front of another supportive home crowd. They were all over the Russians in the first period but couldn't get that key opening goal. Two Russian goals in the second period put them in a deep hole, and then tempers boiled over in the third.

“We knew that Russia had a tough game yesterday,” said Czech coach Jan Fidrmuc. “We wanted to get ahead of them in the first period, and we had the pressure, we outshot them, but unfortunately we weren’t able to score.”

The Czechs out-shot the Russians 14-7 in the opening 20 minutes and had the best chances to score. They almost opened the scoring in the dying seconds of the period on the power play, but Merkusheva was able to keep the puck out amid a wild goalmouth scramble.

“That was also a key moment, but I was comfortable,” the Russian goalie commented. “It was still 0-0 but I was confident that my team would score.”

The Russians started to come on in the second period and, just after killing off a penalty midway through, they pinned the Czechs in their own zone. After defensive coverage broke down, Oxana Bratisheva skated unobstructed to the front of the net and took a pass, which Kristyna Blahova was unable to save despite desperately diving across.

As the middle frame wore on, the play became increasingly physical, as the two teams stretched the legal limits of body-checking in the women's game, which foreshadowed what was to come. Swedish Referee Katarina Timglas let a lot of it go, which provided the fans with some entertaining moments, but eventually penalties had to be called.

The Czechs had an opportunity to tie the game with a lengthy 4-on-3 power play but were unable to convert. A couple of quick Czech penalties later, it was the Russians up 5-on-3 late in the period and they made no mistake. They worked the puck around quickly to break down the triangle and Yelena Provorova received it at the top of the slot and quickly snapped it over Blahova's right shoulder to make it 2-0 with just 50 seconds left in the period.

“In the second period we had a 10-minute stretch where we didn’t play well, and it cost us the game,” Fidrmuc figured. “We didn’t do anything on our power play, then we gave up a goal right away on theirs. That second goal at the end of the period was a real killer.”

With a two-goal lead, the Russians were in the driver's seat to start the third period and played defensively, not allowing the increasingly desperate Czechs from generating anything. But that would change.

As the time on the clock wound down, frustration set in and bodies flew. After a violent collision near the Russian blueline with four minutes to play, Czech captain Klara Hymlarova had to be helped off the ice and Bratisheva – Russia's first goal scorer – was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for checking to the head and neck area. Then in the last two minutes, a multi-player altercation broke out, leading to the expulsions of Kristyna Kaltounkova of the Czech Republic and captain Nina Pirogova of Russia for fighting.

Despite some great chances, however, the shutout remained and the extracurricular activities had no effect on the outcome.

After a day off, both teams are back in action on Friday. The Czechs will play the loser of Sweden-Finland for fifth place, while the Russians are off to the semi-finals against the United States.

Looking ahead, Merkusheva said: “I expect a very high-level game, and I think we will show our character and show that we can play against the Americans.”

 

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