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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Dmitry Orlov goal celebration

Dima celebrates his fourth goal of the year (Photo credit: Kyle Mace of Sweetest Hockey on Earth)

Dripping with sweat after a thirty-minute session on a stationary bike, I asked Dmitry Orlov how he was feeling Saturday night after the biggest game of his professional career.

“Not good. We lost.”

Orlov, a 20-year-old offensive defenseman from Novokuznetsk, Russia, could have cared less about his first ever three-point performance, the fact that he rifled three shots on net, or that he was on the ice for three minutes of the game’s five-minute overtime– big-time minutes for a young player.

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After having to sit through a month of KHL regular season games, RMNB finally got the matchup they’ve been waiting for Tuesday, as two of their favorite Russian Caps Prospects faced off against one another. 2009 Second Round Draft Pick Dmitri Orlov and Metallurg Novokuznetsk played 2010 First Round Draft Pick Evgeny Kuznetsov and Traktor in Chelyabinsk.

Both prospects faired well early in the game. Kuznetsov had a beautiful, primary assist (his first of the year) on the game’s opening goal scored by Alexei Tertyshny. If you take a look at the game highlights above and fast forward to the 16 second mark, you’ll see Kuz, #92, take a pass behind the net, curl multiple times (a la Michael Nylander) before handing the puck off to a charging Tertyshny. Tertyshny then skated hard towards the slot, unleashed a wrist shot that was blocked, found his own rebound in his legs and then fired a backhander past a sprawled Alexander Vyukhin. 1-0 Traktor.

However, five and a half minutes later Metallurg responded on the powerplay. Again if you refer to the above highlights around the 53 second mark, you’ll see Dmitri Orlov, #9, help bring the puck into the offensive zone. After some dump and chase, Metallurg regained possession of the puck in the corners and set up their powerplay. After multiple passes around the perimeter, Orlov found Ruslan Khasanshin down low. Khasanshin, with no other play available, passed back to Dima who decided to wind up and fire a shot from the point. Orlov’s wicked, Gonchar-esque slapshot found its way past former NHL goaltender Sebastien Caron short-side. Orlov’s first goal of the season tied the game up 1-1 and also brought some momentum back for Metallurg, who was badly outplayed in the first period.

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