It was the Danes kicking off the scoring as the 2015 World Juniors got underway, but the Russians who came away with the tournament's first win. Calgary Flames prospect Rushan Rafikov, wearing an "A", was one of Russia's starting defencemen, and played in all situations. He had a first period to forget, but showed some offensive savvy and looked far more comfortable - as did his team - as the game went on.
Team Denmark quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, and Rafikov played a part in both goals against. Rafikov was a part of the Russian penalty kill, and both Danish goals came on the powerplay. The first only took eight seconds, and found Rafikov standing in front of the net alongside Mads Eller when Oliver Bjorkstrand's point shot found its way past Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin.
The second, Rafikov was responsible for the penalty. Unaware his defensive partner was back, he took down star Danish player Nikolaj Ehlers in hopes or preventing a breakaway. Ehlers required 47 seconds to score as Rafikov watched, helpless, from the box.
That was all Russia would give up. Rafikov is their highest scoring defenceman, and as he grew more comfortable as the game progressed, he started stepping up into the play more. His one recorded shot of the game came in the second period. He moved his way up through the slot, deking some Danes, but was unable to score.
Russia scored a powerplay goal in the second and an even strength tally in the third to tie the game, but Rafikov was not a factor in either goal. However, with the game tied late in the third, and a regulation win preferred when it comes to the round robin portion of the tournament, he was out there for the end of the game. He helped bring the puck into the offensive zone and keep it there, and hovering near the slot and point and making himself available for any possible scoring chances.
Rafikov was entrusted with a few shifts in overtime. He was there for the opening faceoff, and was on the ice O towards the end of the extra frame as well. Following an excellent Danish scoring chance, he collected the puck and passed it up to one of his teammates, who ended up getting a stellar wraparound chance that was halted by an even more stellar save by Danish goalie Georg Sorensen. Rafikov's first point of the tournament was that close to being on the overtime winner.
Team Russia ended up taking the game in the shootout, as Sorokin stopped both shots he faced, and Sorensen was scored on twice. Rafikov wasn't a shooter, but it was clear he looked far more confident and capable as the game progressed. The Danes aren't considered a contender in this tournament, but strong goaltending and an excellent top line on an opportunistic powerplay gave the Russians a scare this game.
Next time we see Rafikov it'll be on Sunday, Dec. 28 as the Russians take on the Swiss at 3 p.m. MT. The Swiss aren't a top contender either, and with his legs now under him, hopefully we'll see a more consistent, overall stronger performance from the lone Flames prospect at this year's World Juniors.