Hockey is a young person’s sport. In Team Russia’s thrilling 4-3 World Cup group play win over Team North America, which consists of players 23 and under, all four of Russia’s goals were scored by players younger than 25.
The North Americans’ vaunted speed, which helped them skate circles around a game Finland squad in their opener, was on display again, but it met its match.
“When you sit back against a team like that,” goalie Matt Murray said, “they’re going to come at you 100 miles per hour and it’s not easy to defend. We just gave them way too much space, and you can’t with that lineup. You just can’t.”
All the questions about Team NA’s potential flaws proved prescient here. The Young Guns were incapable of playing a heavy enough game to take the strong-skating Russians off theirs, and the North American blueliners, facing their first real test (the offense largely kept the Finns off the attack), wilted under a second-period barrage in which Russia scored four times in a 6:14 span, chasing Matt Murray from net in favor of John Gibson.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko scored for the Russians, with Kuznetsov’s end-to-end goal (with FIFA-inspired celebration) as the best example of the North American defense not knowing quite what to do when you come right at it.
In net, Sergei Bobrovsky came up big with 43 saves, and fending off an attempted comeback by holding NA scoreless for the final 16:59.
It was a huge win for the Russians, who looked rough in an opening loss to Sweden and needed this to have any chance of moving on. With Sweden favorites to move on, it’ll likely come down to Russia and North America for the second berth into the semifinals, with the two tied in the standings and Russia holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Smart money says the Young Guns won’t make it through, which, even if it’s not really unexpected, would still be a shame. They’ve been the best part of this tournament, and even in a loss they’re doing things to make you feel good about the future of the sport. This tournament may have justified itself solely by giving us Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, the last two No. 1 picks, racing up ice together.
Can you frame a GIF?