Ovechkin rocks the World in Russia's opener

DEC.27 -- After going pointless and barely noticeable in last week's exhibition matches the line of Yuri Trubachev, Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Polushin exploded for four goals and nine points last Night at Sydney's Center 200, as Russia outpowered potential pre-tournament contender.

"This team exists for almost five full seasons. They play a typical North American style, there's nothing special about this team and I did beat them before," - said head coach Rafail Ishmatov a day before the contest, referring to a December of 2000 3-0 victory over Lou Vairo's side at the time Ishmatov's club team St.Petersburg was touring North America. One may have wondered whether Ishmatov was both arrogant and ignorant or perhaps he was just point blank realistic about opposition's capabilities.

Bottom line is - over the course of the game the title holders were never close to being in trouble. Their superiority was obvious from the start despite the fact that Ishmatov's boys were quite off their A game.

Out of all the game aspects that were noted in need of being fixed - slight improvement was noticed only regarding the defensive zone coverage. Power play continued to struggle, as Ishmatov's squad capitalized just once in eight opportunities, including failing in two minute-long spells with two players in the penalty box for Americans. Discipline was an issue again, as Russia picked up 10 minors, led by Fedor Tyutin's four trips to the box.

While Ovechkin was back being his usual dominant self, Nikolai Zherdev continued star in a one man's show on the third unit. Zherdev's line-mates deserve a share of blame for being unable to keep up with his pace - but overall all the line fared poorly and rightly didn't get much ice-time.

The U.S. of A. disappointed more than the Russians impressed.

"We were beaten by a better team," - said Patrick O'Sullivan, who scored United States' loan goal early in the second period. O'Sullivan's teammates didn't generate much opportunities in course of the game failing to explore Russia's main weakness. It was obvious that big boned netminder Andrei Medvedev was struggling at recovering to position all night long, yet he saw very few second shots from USA forwards. However Russian rearguards deserve some credit for doing a fine job securing the crease area.

Game's uncontested hero Ovechkin now has 11 goals in 7 official matches for Russia U-20 side this season.

"My hat-trick wasn't as important, as the victory for the team. Winning the game was all I thought about and I tried my best to help the case" - said Alexander after the game.

Two of his goals came on great cross-crease feeds from line-mates. The first goal came while Russia had a man advantage. Ovechkin snicked to the side of the crease and struck the puck past James Howard after Trubachev threw a quick pass from inside the right circle. Second tally came three minutes later, as he scored with a lightning quick wrister from top of the slot after his center carried the puck into the zone and left it behind. Third goal was a result of a nifty three way passing play with Polushin serving as a set-up man for Moscow Dynamo's 17-year old gem.

At 7:17 of the second period Kirill Koltsov scored on a short-handed rush, demonstrating his slick ability for a perfectly timed jump in the play. Trubachev added Russia's final goal midway through the third period.

RHI Three Stars

1. Ovechkin
2. Trubachev
3. Koltsov

Russia's next game is on Saturday against team Slovakia.

In other matches played on Thursday...

Konstantin Zakharov and Andrei Kastitsyn were marked closely by the Swiss in a 2-4 loss. The only CSB ranked Belarussians combined for just three shots on goal and were -5 on the night. 17-year old undersized winger Vadim Karaga had a strong game for Belarus scoring a beautiful break-away tally and assisting on Mikhail Grabovsky's goal... Beat Forster had a goal, an assists and fired five shots on Sergei Ragovsky's net to lead the offense in a winning cause. Caryl Neuenschwander, Patrik Bartschi and Cyrill Buhler also scored for Switzerland.

Canada looked like one team that could be in the same league with highly favored Russians dominating Sweden in 8-2 victory. Pity for the Tre Kronor traditions, as their juniors looked like a lower division team. Sweden lacked speed and toughness to match against the host club.

Finland lead by Jossi Jokinen's two goal performance beat Germany in Halifax 4-0. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots for a shut-out.

-- Max Dostoevsky