Team Russia and Team USA found themselves in the unenviable position of facing off against one another in the quarterfinals. Both are countries with high hopes in hockey at pretty much every level, and yet, the loser of this game would be going home without a chance at a medal. It was a tough position after the Americans lost a thriller to Team Canada, while the Russians slept through their final round robin game against Team Czech Republic.
These two teams met up in the quarterfinals last year, as well. In 2014, Rushan Rafikov was one of the Russians' final cuts, while Jon Gillies was named America's starting goalie. The Russians came out on top, sending home the lone Calgary Flames prospect of that tournament.
Well, in 2015, the Flames prospect, this time on the Russian side of things, still has the chance to play for a medal.
Rafikov, split from his usual defence partner Dmitri Yudin, did not have a particularly noticeable or standout game. That said, it was a game that had difficulties establishing any sort of rhythm, what with the 14 penalties called: eight against the Americans, including five alone in the first period, and six against the Russians. The penalty-fest included one five-on-three for the Russians, two five-on-threes for the Americans, and a goal for each in those circumstances.
An offensive defenceman, Rafikov was present throughout the Russian powerplays. He was on the ice, guarding the point when Ivan Barbashyov quickly put the Russians up 1-0, although he did not factor into the goal. As the game went on, the Russians, not scoring on their numerous powerplay opportunities, adjusted their set up, and that involved Rafikov no longer being sent out on the first unit. He handled point duties at the ends of powerplays rather than the starts.
Rafikov didn't draw any penalties himself, but he did take one - and a very bad, stupid one at that. That note on the five-on-threes present throughout the game? Rafikov was responsible for the Americans' second crack at the extra man advantage. It was extremely ill-timed, because the Russians had only just reestablished their multi-goal lead in the third, a period the Americans quickly dominated. It was also extremely stupid.
While Rafikov does pick up the occasional penalty kill minutes for the Russians - usually as the opposition's powerplay is dying down - when teammate Alexander Dergachyov went off for interference, Rafikov was one of the first Russians out on the kill. He stood in front of the net, guarding American player of the game John Hayden. In an attempt to throw Hayden off his game, he waved his stick by his face. Multiple times. Enough times that he actually ended up high sticking him, giving the Americans a 1:18 five-on-three opportunity. He was fortunate to not be the goat on this one, as his teammates bailed him out and the Americans failed to score with the men advantages.
That makes four of five World Junior games this year in which Rafikov has taken a penalty; the only one he didn't was in the sluggish effort against the Czechs.
Rafikov also failed to score any additional points - he has one goal and three points to his name this tournament, two of which came in a 7-0 blowout against the Swiss - when combatting the Americans. The Americans did a good job of moving to block his lane whenever it looked he was to get a shooting opportunity on the powerplay, and he was mostly limited to keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making initial passes as the Russians tried to set themselves up.
All that said, there wasn't much to see of him in even strength. He was sent out at the start of a four-on-four period, which came with the Americans down by two and desperate to score, and so, was trusted to defend against Jack Eichel and Sonny Milano with a lot of open ice. This didn't last long, but he did have the initial assignment, which posed no real threat in the beginning.
A one-goal game, the Russians had to work hard to defend against the Americans, especially with goalie Thatcher Demko pulled in the final minute. Rafikov was not a part of that defence.
The Russians now have a pretty good chance at a medal, and with them, so does the lone Flames prospect at this tournament. While Rafikov wears an "A" for the team, he didn't have a major impact on the overall game. He gets to play twice more, however. The first is the semifinal matchup against Team Sweden, which will take place on Sunday, Jan. 4 at 2 p.m. MT. The game will, of course, be on TSN.