Monday, January 4, 2016

Russia heads to final

Russia has had its share of scares at these World Juniors, including a hair-raising 4-3 overtime win over lowly Denmark in the quarter-final. But that doesn't matter now.

Yegor Korshkov got the winner on a brilliant unassisted effort with 2:04 left in the second period. He faked a shot at the right point, performed a spinnerama, looped through the faceoff circle and cut in front to tuck the puck inside U.S. goalie Alex Nedeljkovic’s left post. It gave Korshkov his team-leading seventh point.

Against Finland, the swift-skating Russians will vie for their first gold medal since 2011 (Buffalo) and 14th of all-time, including the Soviet Union era. They took silver last year versus Canada.

The Americans will seek consolation in the bronze medal game versus Sweden. They have won bronze four times before (1986, 1992, 2007, 2011). It's a disappointing outcome for a squad loaded with NHL-drafted talent.

The U.S. has now lost five straight World Junior games to Russia, including its last two quarter-finals in 2014 and 2015. More shockingly, it has never won a medal round game against Russia since the IIHF began using the playoff system in 1996.

Pavel Kraskovski had the other goal for Russia.

Christian Dvorak scored for the Americans, who are out of the running for their first gold medal since the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, Russia.

Hungry and determined at Helsinki's Hartwall Arena, Russia outshot the U.S. 33-27, making life hard on Nedeljkovic. Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov, a 2015 first-round pick of the Washington Capitals, shone in just his second start of the tournament after defeating Belarus 4-1 in round-robin play.

Valeri Bragin has now coached Russia at five World Juniors, and has made the final in every case, winning gold in 2011 against Canada. His other previous gold medal games were in 2005 (loss to Canada), 2012 (loss to Sweden), and 2015 (loss to Canada).

Looking much more focused than against Denmark, the Russians came out buzzing.

However, the U.S. struck first at 9:03. Sonny Milano zoomed down left wing and fed a perfect centering pass from the corner to an onrushing Dvorak, who tapped it in.

There were chances for the U.S. to pad its lead. Brock Boeser and Ryan Hitchcock narrowly missed making it a two-goal lead on an odd-man rush. Matthew Tkachuk rang one off the post from right in front.

Russia got a huge opportunity to get on the board with a two-man advantage with under five minutes left in the first period. But Nedeljkovic made a great paddle save on Alexander Polunin at the side of the net.

With Milano off for hooking midway through the second period, Nedeljkovic blocked Yegor Korshkov’s zinger from the right faceoff circle. Moments later, from the same spot, Kamenev rang one off the goalie’s left post.

Undeterred, the Russians kept pressing. Finally at 15:08, in a wild scrum, Kraskovski was able to bang in a rebound past the goalie’s right skate. The Russians jumped for joy as they embraced one another.

The Americans picked up their tempo in the third period, outshooting Russia 13-6, but couldn't find the equalizer despite receiving two man advantages. With two minutes left, they pulled Nedeljkovic for a sixth attacker. But it was to no avail.

The result also ends U.S. head coach Ron Wilson's quest for a World Junior crown. The former long-time NHL bench boss won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, the 2010 Olympic silver medal, and the 1996 IIHF World Championship bronze medal.

Finland going for gold

It was Finnish young guns versus Sweden’s solid defence, and it didn’t turned out to be similar fireworks of scoring as Finland’s game against Canada. But it was a thriller all the same, and in the end, Finns came out on top thanks to two second-period goal, 2-1.
Kasperi Kapanen and team captain Mikko Rantanen collected two assists each for Finland. Antti Kalapudas scored the game-winner. Kaapo Kahkonen made 21 saves for Finland.
"It was a close game, but I think we deserved to win," Kapanen said.
"This was our best game in the tournament," added Rantanen who had two points in the first five games of the tournament.
"Mikko [Rantanen] has been a big part of our team in the tournament, he's a great leader, and it was nice to see him get rewarded for his work on the ice," said Sebastian Aho.
Rasmus Asplund scored Sweden’s lone goal, Linus Soderstrom made 26 saves.
"It's my other family in there [in the dressing room], and to let in two goals in this game is a failure," Soderstrom said.
"We knew we needed a goal at the end, and everybody battled like dogs, but we couldn't tie it. Power play was the key, they scored their first one right after their power play, and the other one was a power-play goal," said Dmytro Timashov.
Any way you slice it, the Finland versus Sweden games always come down to one word: rivalry. The rivalry cuts through all aspects all life, not just hockey, but hockey is a great way to measure its intensity level. Even if the players on these teams didn’t feel the weight of a nation on their shoulders, they also knew each other well, having played against each other several times over the years.
Most people, including the players, expected the crowd to be even louder than in the previous games in the tournament, but with full sections filled with disappointed Canadians, the arena was quieter than one might have predicted, but as the Finns scored their goals, the atmosphere got more livid.
"It's unbelievable that the arena is sold out on a Monday, when the puck drops at 4pm," Kapanen said.
"I guess people figured out ways to get out of work," he added with a chuckle.
Maybe the lack of wild Finland support helped the Swedes take control of the game early on in the game. Especially the line with Alex Nylander and Dmytro Timashov and Rasmus Asplund was a threat every time they stepped on the ice.
Halfway through the first period, Timashov picked up the puck in the Swedish zone, carried it full 60 metres deep into the Finnish zone. Finnish defenceman Joni Tuulola missed a footing and fell which opened an opportunity to Timashov to take a few strides towards the Finnish net, and find Asplund at the backdoor where he had an easy job to beat Kaapo Kahkonen in Finland’s goal and give Sweden the lead in the game at 10:17.
"I was trying to drive to the net, but when I then saw [Asplund] in front of the net, it was an easy decision to get him the puck," Timashov said.
Early in the second period, Sweden got into some penalty trouble taking two minor penalties in the first nine minutes of the period. While the Finns feared top line with Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, and Jesse Puljujarvi couldn’t convert their chances, just as Adrian Kempe got back onto the ice, Mikko Rantanen found Roope Hintz in front of Soderstrom, and he tied the game at 11:08 into the second period.
"Once again, we were down by a goal in the game, but rallied back and won it. I think that says everything about the character of this team," said Finnish forward Sebastian Aho.
Two minutes later, Finland got another power-play opportunity. Again, the Swedish penalty kill could shut down Finland’s top unit, but tonight, the Finns got secondary scoring from other lines. Rantanen grabbed the puck behind Sweden’s goal, found Antti Kalapudas at the faceoff dot and he fired a low wrist shot that beat Soderstrom at the far post and the Swedes found themselves in an unfamiliar situation. It was the first time they were trailing in the tournament.
And they never recovered. Sweden couldn't create a big push even late in the game. Also, Andreas Englund's holding minor with three minutes remaining spoiled any plans that coach Rikard Gronborg may have had.
"The penalty kill drained our energy," said Timashov.
Sweden will play for bronze medals, like last year, while Finnish fans can look forward to a World Junior Championship final tomorrow.

Djokovic Makes Flying Start In Doha

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic required just 51 minutes for his first match win of 2016.
Djokovic, who has finished year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings for four of the past five years, cruised past qualifier Dustin Brown 6-2, 6-2 on Monday at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. 
"It's been six weeks since I played the last match, so I was very excited to go back to the court and compete and see how I go," said Djokovic. "Obviously you never know how you're going to start from the blocks. You can do your best to prepare yourself well, which I did. I think I used the off season very well to train to get my body in the right shape, and I think it was a very good start."
The Serbian is looking to capture his 60th tour-level title this week at the ATP World Tour 250 tournament. Since a loss to Ivo Karlovic last year in the Doha quarter-finals, he has reached 15 straight finals (11-4).
"I think the biggest challenge is, as it is in any of the previous years for me, is to really be consistent with my success throughout the year, try to stay healthy and try to maintain the high level of performance," he said. "That's what I try to focus my mind on.
"If I start thinking too much about certain tournaments, it can present a kind of a distraction to me so you try not to do that. I try to actually be as much as I can in the present and work my way through and effect whatever I can effect. That's really working on my game, training myself to be strong and to play confident tennis. And I know as a consequence to that, the results will be positive, I'm hoping, obviously."
Fifth seed Feliciano Lopez bowed out in his first-round match, falling to fellow Spaniard Daniel Munoz de la Nava 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 in two hours and 25 minutes. Lopez, who fired 24 aces, managed to convert just one of his nine break point chances. 
World No. 75 Munoz de la Nava was playing his first tour-level match since March 2014. He next meets qualifier Kyle Edmund, currently No. 102, who struck seven aces in a 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 43-ranked Martin Klizan.
Earlier in the day, seventh seed Jeremy Chardy lost just seven of his service points for a 6-1, 6-1 rout ofMubarak Shannan Zayid in 46 minutes. 

Coric, Pavic Prevail In Chennai Openers

Eighth seed Borna Coric, working under the guidance of coach Miles Maclagan for the past month, opened his second appearance at the Aircel Chennai Open with a 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4 win over 2009 and 2014 semi-finalist Marcel Granollers in just over two-and-a-half hours on Monday.
Despite hitting 17 aces, 2012 semi-finalist Nicolas Almagro could not overcome Croatian qualifier Ante Pavic in a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(1) loss. John Millman battled past Evgeny Donskoy 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(6).

Chung fells Groth in opening round

Big-serving Sam Groth has bowed out in the first round of the Brisbane International on Monday night, beaten 7-6(8), 6-4 by South Korean teenager Hyeon Chung on Pat Rafter Arena.
World No.51 Chung booked a second-round clash with third seed Marin Cilic after seeing off the reigning Newcombe Medallist.
Earlier Aussie wildcards Ben Mitchell and John-Patrick Smith also fell at the first hurdle.
The remaining Aussie men – Bernard Tomic, wildcard James Duckworth and qualifier Oliver Anderson – feature in first-round action on Tuesday.
Davis Cup regular Groth appeared in complete control against the bespectacled 19-year-old when he led the first set 5-2. But Chung showed why he was voted last year’s ATP World Tour most improved player by finding a way to blunt Groth’s serve, which pushed 230km/h.
World No.60 Groth made 26 unforced errors as his first set unravelled. He came back from 4-1 down in the second but Chung closed out the match against the shellshocked local.
Groth had hoped to at least match his 2015 Brisbane performance when he downed defending champion Lleyton Hewitt on the way to the quarterfinals.
The 28-year-old – holder of the world record for the fastest serve at 263km/h – went on to have a breakthrough 2015.
He received the Newcombe Medal after helping Australia reach the Davis Cup semi-finals and reached the third round of a major for the first time at the Australian Open and then again at Wimbledon.
Earlier, German qualifier Tobias Kamke booked a second-round clash with defending champion Roger Federer by downing Queenslander Mitchell 6-2, 6-4. Smith fell 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to American Denis Kudla.
Earlier, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov upset fifth-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon in the first round. The 2014 Australian Open quarter-finalist, whose pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger watched from the stands, will next meet the winner between American Steve Johnson and Serbia’s Viktor Troicki.
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