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Americans celebrate opening goal versus Russia. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

It wasn’t a classic Canada versus Russia battle or even a heated Russia – USA war-like effort, but it was very good hockey at Roger’s Arena on Friday, during the World Junior Championships (U20) semi-final match. The winner goes on to play for the gold medal on Saturday from the winner of the Finland and Switzerland semi-final.

The first 10-minutes of the game was a feeling out period, however, the Americans had a slight edge in play. The Russians thought that they had opened the scoring at approximately 9:40 on the clock, when the puck entered the net, off of a forward’s skate; however, the play went to review and the goal was disallowed, to the chagrin of most of the 14,355 in attendance.

“Yes, but not from our perspective it wasn’t tentative. We took care of our own end first and made clean breakouts and fore-checked well,” said Ryan Poehling after the game.

The Americans opened the scoring at 14:29 of the first, when Oliver Wahlstrom, flying down the right side, found an open net and the puck on the end of his stick, thanks to a tape-to-tape pass by Logan Cockerill, who was breaking down the left side. Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov was committed to Cockerill and could not get across in time, Wahlstrom buried the puck.  Dylan Samberg earned the second assist on the play.

The Americans took a 2-0 lead on the powerplay during the second period as Vitali Kravtsov took two for tripping. Alexander Chmelesvki scored for the Americans at 4:20 as the puck skittered off of his stick and went five-hole on the Russian netminder.

Quinn Hughes deliberating whether to take a point shot or pass. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Victoria Sports News

The Russians finally got on the board with a marker of their own – up until that goal – they appeared tentative and almost nervous. Grigori Denisenko, who made several forays into the American’s end stole the puck in the neutral zone, skated down the right side and fired a seeing-eye wrister, top–right corner behind American goalie Cayden Primeau. It was an unassisted marker at 13:36. The goal gave the Russians some much-needed life at the end of the second period.

Denisenko was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the first round, 15th overall in 2018. The 18-year-old looks ready for the NHL if Florida wants to have a quick transition game.

The Russians continued to press during the third period, creating several good scoring opportunities. The Americans, with a combination of puck luck and good goaltending, managed to hold off the pressing Russians to hold on for the win.

“They are a really good team. No one wants to come here to finish second. They played very well and I am sure the Russians will do well tomorrow for the bronze medal,” said Jack Hughes, younger brother to Quinn Hughes drafted by the Vancouver Canucks.

“I feel I can play at another level. I just played my third game of the tourney, but I will be ready for tomorrow,” said Hughes when asked about stepping up his play, with three assists in three games.

Asked if he felt a little more at home with the Roger’s Arena crowd not booing the Americans as they did in Victoria, Poehling said, “Yeah, they didn’t like us much in Victoria. We are still in Canada and feel on the road, but the support has been good.”

The gold medal game goes at 5:00 pm Saturday.

The Russians outshot the Americans 35-27.