Kuznetsov poses with the second-place silver platter. (Photo credit: Francois Laplante)

After defeating Canada 6-5 Tuesday, Team Russia returned to Calgary’s Saddledome on Thursday night to take on Sweden in the WJC’s gold medal game. Russia struggled from the get-go and only found their game in spurts during the third period.

The shot statistics tell the tale. Russia went without a shot on goal for the first 12:34 of the game, and at the end of the first period Sweden had outshot them 17 to 3.

The second period was even worse, as Russia managed to throw only one puck on net. By the end of the third period, Sweden held a 50 to 16 shot advantage. The game, however, remained scoreless.

In overtime, after outshooting Russia 8-1, Mika Zibanejad scored the golden goal on a breakaway, giving Sweden its first U-20 championship in 31 years. Caps prospect and captain of the Russian WJC team, Evgeny Kuznetsov, returned to the bench, crouched over, and weeped.

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Team Russia shocked the world by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the gold medal game against Canada to win the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship one year ago. Tremendous coaching, discipline, and a lot of luck made a good team great. Several players also proved that they were the real deal, including Dmitry Orlov (currently playing in Washington), Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues prospect currently ranked fifth in KHL in goals), Maxim Kitsyn (KHL’s Metallurg Novokuznetsk), Artemy Panarin (Vityaz), and — the youngest of the bunch — Evgeny Kuznetsov. Role players from last year’s team, Nikita Dvurechenski (KHL’s Vityaz), Anton Burdasov (third-line center on the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk), and Nikita Pivtsakin (KHL’s Avangard Omsk), have also graduated to become full-time KHL players.

Unfortunately, age eligibility rules have forced a drastic change to Russia, who is looking to repeat as champions for the first time since 2002 and 2003. The only returning player is Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzya, the captain wearing #25, is sure to be a major key to success for the Russians. He’s played in the tournament before, scored, and assisted on clutch goals.

Kuznetsov’s been very successful at the professional level this year: he leads the KHL in game-winning goals (5), scored the game-winner in the Karjala Cup, and plays on the first line of the Russian league’s best team, Traktor Chelyabinsk.

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