Fort St. John, B.C.
ZHUKOV STEALS SEMIFINAL SHOOTOUT WIN FOR RUSSIA
JASON LA ROSE
FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Maxim Zhukov turned in a goaltending performance for the ages, making 50 saves, plus six more in the shootout, to lead Russia to a 3-2 extra-time win over Canada Red in Friday’s first semifinal at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The Russians will have a chance to defend their U17 title in the gold medal game on Saturday night; they will face Canada White in the final at the Encana Events Centre in Dawson Creek (7:30 p.m. MT, live on TSN2).
Kirill Slepets was the shootout hero, scoring the lone goal in the sixth round as Russia advanced to the gold medal game for the fourth time in five years – it won gold in 2012 and 2014, and settled for silver in 2013.
After Zhukov and Michael DiPietro (Amherstburg, Ont./Windsor, OHL) combined to stop the first 11 shooters, Slepets snuck the 12th shot through DiPietro’s legs to end a wild semifinal.
With a pro-Canadian crowd at North Peace Arena solidly behind them, the Canadians came out firing in the first and took an early lead when Jordan Bellerive (North Vancouver, B.C./Lethbridge, WHL) spun on the left wing and surprised Zhukov with a quick shot, making it 1-0 exactly two minutes in.
The Red power play doubled the lead before the end of the opening frame; Josh Brook (Roblin, Man./Moose Jaw, Sask.) jumped up from the blue-line and scored a back-door beauty off a feed from Antoine Morand (Mercier, Que./Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL) to put the Canadians up two after 20 minutes.
From there, though, Zhukov took over, making 40 saves over the last 50 minutes of regulation and overtime.
The Russians pulled one back late in the second period on the power play, with Andrei Svechnikov redirecting a Vladislav Kazamanov shot through DiPietro, and it took Slepets just 1:43 of the third to tie the game.
Red pushed hard for the go-ahead goal in the third, firing shot after shot towards Zhukov – 15 in total, many of them point-blank chances – but the Russian netminder calmly stood his ground.
A busy overtime failed to determine a winner, setting up a tense shootout.
Pavel Demin, Yaroslav Alekseev (twice), Klim Kostin and Alexey Lipanov were turned away by DiPietro, while Joel Teasdale (Beloeil, Que./Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL), Maxime Comtois (Ste-Martine, Que./Victoriaville, QMJHL) (twice), Bellerive and Morand were denied by Zhukov.
Canada Red will play for the bronze medal on Saturday afternoon, taking on Sweden in Dawson Creek (3 p.m. MT, live on TSN2).