No. 1 star - Nikita Kucherov, Team Russia
It was unthinkable that the Russians would be forced to a shootout by the Swiss. It's even more unthinkable that after having watched Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Grigorenko as Russia's best two-man unit that Patrick Roy isn't kicking himself having dealt Kucherov away from the Quebec Remparts in November. Both players were instrumental in Russia's 4-3 shootout win over the Swiss to advance to the semifinals.
Grigorenko had been dangerous all tournament, Russia's shot leader with 18 coming into the game but without a single goal to show for it. That changed in the second period with a backhand goal from the slot, but Kucherov was the real star of this one. Kucherov, the Tampa Bay Lightning second rounder, tied the game with 1:39 to go from the side of the net, and had the shootout winner in the fifth round.
The Buffalo Sabres' first rounder Grigorenko was named Russia's player of the game with a goal, an assist, five shots and going 16-11 on draws. Kucherov looked like the more dangerous offensive talent, despite just three shots, he assisted on Grigorenko's goal and also had a breakaway in the first period that was broken up very well by Swiss defenceman Eliot Antonietti.
Depth has become a severe issue for the Russians. Despite having a very talented group of players, only the line of Grigorenko, Kucherov and Anton Slepyshev has been able to consistently work the puck against the opposition. Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 overall pick in June, certainly had his chances, but he only has one goal on the tournament, and was also involved in the mix-up that led to a Swiss shorthanded goal early in the game. The second and third lines for Russia are going to have to play better, elsewise the Russians may not have much luck in advancing versus Sweden tomorrow.
No. 2 star - John Gaudreau, Team USA
With the Americans in true do-or-die mode, John Gaudreau Czech'd himself before he wrecked himself.
Well that was awful, but Gaudreau had been the face of American top players struggling to score in this tournament, with just two goals in the first four games. He scored a hat-trick in his team's quarterfinal matchup against the Czech Republic and the Americans exploded for seven goals. Riley Barber scored his second and third on the tournament, the scoring being rounded off by Ryan Hartman and J.T. Miller, each with their second on the championship.
The 7-0 win by the Americans will set up a rematch against the Canadians. This tournament marks the first time since 2008 that the four favoured teams: USA, Canada, Russia and Sweden, all made the semifinal.
No. 3 star - Aleksander Barkov, Team Finland
While the Americans difficulty to find offence didn't hurt the team's medal prospects, it certainly cost Finland. Top prospect Aleksander Barkov was held off the scoresheet through the round robin games, but scored a pair in his team's first relegation round game. With a win over Latvia earlier in the tournament and today's 8-0 win over Germany, the Finns guarantee themselves a spot in next year's tournament. Ville Pokka was named the team's best player and also scored a couple, in what was a fairly routine win for Finland.
Honourable Mention - Melvin Nyeffler, Team Switerzland
Back at the 2010 tournament, a young Swiss goalie named Benjamin Conz was named to the tournament's All-Star team after a quarterfinal game he stole from the Russians. Nyeffler looked fairly shaky early on, allowing a chicken wing goal to Alexander Khokhlachev in the first period. He would recover and make 33 saves on 36 shot attempts, which doesn't include the two he made in the shootout off of Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov.
Honourable Mention - Andrei Vasilevski, Team Russia
When a team like Russia is put to the brink against an underdog, sometimes you can blame a couple of bad goals or one guy getting shamefully out-goaltended. Tampa Bay first rounder Andrei Vasilevski actually faced more shots than Nyeffler and made two saves of the highlight-reel variety with his extendable left leg. This image of his first period stop on Christoph Bertschy pretty much says it all. All told, he officially stopped 41 of 44, plus one more in the shootout, and had a pretty sweet poke check on Sven Andrighetto.