Team USA was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championships with a 5-3 loss to Russia on Thursday. The U.S. led 3-2 entering the second period but lost the game in the middle frame, giving up two 5-on-3 goals to Sabres’ prospect Nikita Zadarov within 1:01. Russian star goaltender Andrey Vasilevsky withstood a late third period barrage from the U.S. before the game was effectively ended with an empty-net goal for the Russians with less than a minute left to play.
Boston College freshman Steve Santini, possibly the most responsible American defenseman during the tournament, was tapped to help kill off the first 5-on-3. Zaradov’s blast from the right circle went past both Santini and Providence goalie Jon Gilles and tied the game. Then, after winning the resulting center-ice faceoff, Santini fired the puck into the Russian zone from just inside his own blue line to kill time off the remaining 5-on-4. There was a problem, though, and it may have sent the Americans home: the international boards are much smaller than those in North America—“the boards at Conte Forum are about 30-feet high,” joked NHL Network analyst Dave Starman. The boards in Malmo weren’t tall enough. The puck glanced off the top of the end boards behind Vasilevsky and skipped over the glass. A delay of game penalty was called on Santini, and Zaradov blasted another missile past Gilles on the ensuing 5-on-3 for the game winner.
If this play is what a viewer were to remember about Santini’s tournament, that viewer would be misguided. The Devils’ prospect was consistently sound in his own end, separating forwards from pucks with force and skill throughout the game. He stayed at home plenty, but not before starting the initial rush for his more offensive-minded partner Will Butcher many times. Santini was on the ice for much of the third period, a testament to head coach Don Lucia’s belief in his game. Starman remarked during the third period that “this tournament has justified the Devils’ pick [of Santini] and where they picked him [42nd overall]. He’s been really good. [Santini] could blossom into a really good NHL defenseman.”
Ian McCoshen, Santini’s fellow freshman defenseman, saw his time on the ice reduced on Thursday. It was a curious decision, made more so after Russia’s first goal was scored partly due to a coverage breakdown on the part of Jaccob Slavin, who was playing on BU defenseman Matt Gryzlyck’s left side, the side McCoshen has typically manned. McCoshen received more time with Gryzlyck as the game wore on and played well.
Both defensemen, as well as third-string U.S. goalie Thatcher Demko, are eligible for the 2015 tournament should they be invited back next year. It remains to be seen if the three, along with BC assistant Greg Brown, will appear in Saturday night’s game against Notre Dame at Fenway Park.