The Russians didn't exactly have an opening game to forget, but the surprising Danes did jump out to an early lead, and force a shootout. Rushan Rafikov, the lone Flames prospect at this year's World Juniors, didn't have the best game himself: on the ice for Denmark's first goal, and the offender on what led to their second powerplay tally.
But he and his team had the day off yesterday, and it seemed to have done all of them some good, because they absolutely dominated the Swiss, and Rafikov was the one who kicked it all off.
The Russian defender once again started the game, and played in all situations: a constant feature on Russia's point on the powerplay, and frequent second unit penalty killer. As the game went on, he played more conservative, but that was after he had already gotten the offensive ball absolutely rolling.
Team Russia received the game's first powerplay. They controlled the puck well, with Rafikov sitting back at the point. He kept the puck in, and his initial shot went wide. Once he got the puck back, though, he had the game winner on his stick. Taking the pass from Anatoli Golyshev, Rafikov lined himself up and then absolutely drilled the puck, sending it past several bodies - and under his screening teammate - to rip it right past Swiss goalie Gauthier Descloux.
It was a hell of a shot - his only shot of the game - to kick things off for the Russians, who never looked back.
Rafikov wasn't out there for the second goal, but he was for the third. In the period's dying minute, he was standing behind his own net with the puck, waiting for his team. He eventually carried it out and dished it straight up the middle of the ice, right on teammate Ivan Barbashyov's stick. Barbashyov to Pavel Buchnevich, Russia's other alternate, and a hell of a shot had the Russians up 3-0 after one.
The Russians had to start the second on the penalty kill, and while Rafikov wasn't out there initially - he was never a part of the first penalty kill unit - he was sent out there to kill off the final seconds. This is when he made his only real mistake of the game, when, with 13 seconds to go, he missed on his attempt to lift a Swiss player's stick, and ended up high sticking him instead. His teammates bailed him out, though, so no harm, no foul - very much unlike the game against the Danes. They were far more composed.
Following the kill, Rafikov directed a few more shots towards the Swiss net, but missed on both. Still, he was very active in the offensive zone, constantly moving and looking for scoring opportunities, but always hanging just far back enough to not be out of position defensively. This was the case, as following Russian pressure the Swiss managed to bring it down the ice, but Rafikov stayed with his man and only permitted him a poor shot attempt that Russian goalie Igor Shestyorkin easily had.
A bad hit by Golyshev knocked Phil Baltisberger out of the game, and ended up giving the Swiss a five minute major. Rafikov played parts of the kill, but the Swiss were unable to score. When Maxim Mamin committed a holding penalty, giving the Swiss a 1:14 five-on-three, Rafikov was not part of the kill.
Rafikov wasn't on the ice for Russia's fourth or fifth goals. He was, however, out there for a small scrum he jumped into by the Russian net, and present at the start of the ensuing four on four shift. By this point, with such a strong lead and the Swiss unable to score with extended man advantages, he was playing rather cautious, conservative, and smart.
When the Russians acquired their own short five-on-three - about 20 seconds - Rafikov was out there. He didn't get much chance to do anything, however, as the Swiss won the faceoff, and sent the puck past him and down the ice immediately. He remained out there for the rest of the powerplay, however, and spent most of his time guarding the blueline and looking for smart passes, as there weren't many opportunities for him to score again.
Entering the third period already up 5-0, both teams had calmed down considerably from the penalty-fest that was the second. While he didn't get a point on the sixth goal, he was a small part in making it happen. Similar to the third goal, Rafikov was responsible for delivering the puck just outside the offensive zone. He skated the puck up the ice and passed it to a teammate, who took it in. Scrambly Swiss play and sheer determination by Valdislav Kamenev did the rest, but it kicked off with Rafikov's work to bring the puck up the ice to begin with.
Rafikov was not on the ice for the ensuing seventh Russian goal. By that point, the game was over. The Swiss took one last penalty in the final two minutes, and Rafikov was again out there. Team Switzerland actually got two back-to-back two-on-one attempts, and Rafikov was the Russian defender back both times. He prevented the pass both times, and both shots rang off the inside of the post. Russia preserved the shutout and won with a dominating 7-0 finish.
Overall, Rafikov had a strong presence throughout the game. When the score was relatively close, he was eager to put points on the board, and his excellent shot kicked off the Russians' scoring. While he was never the Russians' first choice on the penalty kill, he was a frequent staple on the point on the powerplay. He never took any unnecessary risks, and was quick to get back whenever the Swiss started pressing.
Of course, winning by 7-0 would indicate a stronger performance by everyone as opposed to a 3-2 shootout win, but Rafikov was noticeably much stronger this time around. He wants to score, but he doesn't want to be responsible for any goals against, either. He controlled much of the game from the backend, never so far ahead that he couldn't get back, and leading a number of offensive rushes. It was a great performance from the Flames' lone World Juniors representative.