Russia headed home with its second Subway Super Series victory over the Canadian Hockey League in three seasons on Thursday, but not without leaving a lot of talking points for the six weeks leading up to the world junior championship.
The first time Russia won the event in 2010, it presaged their gold-medal triumph at the world juniors a month and a half later in Buffalo. This victory might have been more impressive, as its 5-2 win on Thursday gave it victories over all three CHL leagues for the first time in the event's 10-year history and a 10-8 win on points, since Team WHL's Game 5 win on Wednesday came in a shootout.
Here's what you need to know about the Russians after six games in Canada. Coach Mikhail Varnakov's squad, the host team for the world junior in Ufa, will have a rematch with Team Canada on New Year's Eve. Here's some observations gleaned from the final two games in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.:
— Nail Yakupov and Co. came out hard in Victoria. Varnakov and his coaching staff obviously made a few adjustments in tactics, one of which was that they put more pressure on Team WHL's defence. Russia proved to be hungrier on the puck. They also outskated their opposition, but that's hardly a surprise.
— The Saskatoon Blades' Andrei Makarov kept a perfect record for 88:15 of regulation but allowed a soft goal by Ty Rattie. You know the saying — the higher you get, the harder you fall.
— Andrei Sigarev capped off his fantastic performance at Subway Series with a two-point outing on Thursday. He scored the second goal for Russia with just 10 seconds left on the clock in the first and then battled hard for the puck to feed it to Alex Khokhlachev who scored the 4-1 goal.
— Yakupov obviously struggles under Varnakov's strategy sometimes. Defensive shutdown hockey was not panning out for the Oilers first overall pick, especially in Game 5. In his defence, though, he's not the only explosive Russian forward who doesn't deliver on a defensive-minded team. There is the Alex Ovechkin reference you've been waiting for.
— Kirill Dyakov of KHL's Yugra had no business being in the slot for Russia's third goal but who can blame him now? His goal proved to be the game-winner. Dyakov also finished the game with plus-4. So did his partner on the defensive pairing Mikhail Naumenkov, who also scored a goal and had an assist for Russia.
— Yaroslav Kosov was plus-3 in this one, and scored an empty-netter. He also could have had another goal but failed to complete the Forsberg move on a breakaway in the third. The Magnitogorsk native was one of the key players for Team Russia in the series as he delivered both offensively and defensively as well as scoring two points. He's projected to be a on a second or third line for Russia at the World Juniors.
— Russia surprised everyone calling up Seattle Thunderbirds forward Alex Delnov for the game. He wasn't expected to play in the series. You could tell by looking at his jersey Delnov was the only one on the ice without a name on his back.
— Varnakov did not make many lineup changes in the first two legs of the series before making up for it in Vancouver. In Game 5 it seemed everyone played with everyone on every possible line, including power play.
— A jokester off the ice, Makarov has an image of the Joker on his mask accompanied by the famous line, "Why so serious?"
— The 19-year-old Sigarev is probably the most improved player on Team Russia at the tournament. He played on the fourth line in Game 1, but worked his way up and played with Khokhlachev and Yakupov on the first line in Game 5. It was also the first time in the series he played on the left wing and not in the middle.
— In Game 5, Kirill Kapustin, who played four games on the first line, was moved to the second line to play with Evgeni Mozer and Anton Shenfeld. Interestingly, Mozer and Kapustin took turns to play in the middle.
— In Vancouver, the Russian national anthem was delivered with a few mistakes in the lyrics and in a heavy accent, which made Russian players chuckle.
— Game 5 was even in the first 40 minutes but Team WHL outplayed Team Russia in the last stanza. Andrei Makarov had to face 12 shots and he came out on top stopping them all.
— Evgeni Mozer had the best scoring chance for team Russia getting on a breakaway in the second period against Calgary Flames prospect Laurent Brossoit, but to no avail.
— The Vancouver game was the first one in the history of the event that had no scoring in regulation time.