Andrey Makarov began the game against the American team with an incredible toe save off of Paul Gaudreau and continued his strong play throughout the second and third periods, perfect on even strength and stopping 27 of 28 throughout the game to pace Russia to a victory of Team USA in an incredible Friday morning game.
Goaltending hasn't been the story yet in these IIHF U-20 world championships, but we hadn't yet been treated to a slate of games like Fridays, with several close scores and outcomes in doubt. The Americans and Russians played to a wide-open, yet tightly-fought 2-1 game, with Makarov and the Russians coming out on top. Russia managed 42 shots at Kitchener Ranger John Gibson and for the most part, he was just as good as Makarov despite being beaten by Vladimir Tkachyov midway through the third period on an individual effort from top Russian prospect Valeri Nichushkin.
Makarov, however, seems incapable of playing anything below an elite level on the international stage. Despite being undrafted, he became the last player signed under the previous National Hockey League collective agreement, to the Buffalo Sabres on an entry-level deal. That's all despite some shakiness in Saskatoon, but everything goes right for him at these tournaments. A perfect 10-for-10 in the third period, including stops off good chances from Rocco Grimaldi and Sean Kuraly helped the Russians maintain their one-goal lead throughout the third, and there was no nervousness around the net on the late American powerplay.
No. 2 Star - Mark Scheifele, Team Canada
TSN analyst Ray Ferraro described Schiefele's game against Slovakia as a "man's game" during the third period. We'll ignore the possible implied misogyny and instead focus on the fact that Schiefele was forced to play a surprise professional game, taking a lot of abuse and contact, being on the receiving end of two illegal hits, one going uncalled in the offensive zone.
Scheifele, on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau, led Team Canada with six shots in the team's first game against Germany. He only had two against Slovakia, but he did score the goal that put Canada ahead at the end of the second period, tipping home a hard shot from Xavier Ouellet neatly past Slovak goaltender Adam Nagy. His efforts were rewarded by the IIHF, earning the totally coveted Best Player of the Game award.
No. 3 Star - Tomas Hyka, Team Czech Republic
Finland was playing sans Miro Aaltonen, who watched the game from the stands with his broken ankle in a cast, but they were still favoured over the Czech Republic team they beat 4-0 at last year's championship and haven't medalled since 2005. The Czechs pulled off the first upset of the tournament with a 3-1 win over Finland and pull them within medal round contention in Group B. There were a number of candidates for Player of the Game for the Czechs. Los Angeles Kings prospect Tomas Hyka scored the opening goal of the game on a wrist shot with six minutes to go in the first period and tied for the team lead with three shots, he was also part of the five-man unit on the ice as the Czechs iced the game with an empty net goal in the dying seconds.
Another good candidate was Patrik Bartosak of the Red Deer Rebels. Usually in an upset, you look to the goalie as the most important player on the ice. He stopped 29 of 30 shots, beaten only by Chicago first rounder Tuevo Teravainen early in the third period.
Honourable Mention - Nail Yakupov, Team Russia
Nail Yakupov has now been held scoreless in consecutive games for Team Russia, but he was out on the penalty kill with under a minute to go, defending the points against dangerous American offensive threats Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba. Edmonton's first overall selection from last June dove headfirst in front of a Trouba shot, thankfully, the puck caught him in the torso, as perhaps Yakupov has not yet adjusted to playing without the full face cage he would be wearing as an underage player.
Honourable Mention - Lino Martschini, Team Switzerland
La Suisse nearly pulled off the unthinkable upset against the Swedes Friday morning. Martschini was instrumental to that, recording a pair of assists, on goals from Eliot Antoniette and Mike Kunzle that factored into both Swiss goals in regulation. It was 2-2 going after overtime. The Swedes opted for a rare move prior to the shootout, replacing Joel Lassinantti with Niklas Lundstrom, who stopped all three shots he faced. Victor Rask had the game-winning shot on Sweden's third attempt, and Martschini was unfortunately stymied on the potential tying attempt.
Favourite stat line from the game however? How about Swiss forward Lukas Balmelli going 0-for-10 in the face-off circle?