By Samuel Dummer

When it comes to the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the Russians can call themselves numero uno, Champions, чемпион. However it is written, it means the same thing. It means they won.

This round…well sort of.

While the legitimacy of the win could be questioned as Canada, the tournaments perennial powerhouse team, chose to abstain and follow local health guidelines, the Russians went with their best foot forward, their best snipers locked and loaded.

With the performance of some of the youngsters on the “Red Machine” put forth, there is no telling the damage they could have done to Canada’s assumptively strong team.

As usual, the Russians played a fast and creative hockey game. After steamrolling the Slovakian team in an exhibition game, Russia started their first recorded game against Switzerland dragging their feet. While the beginning of the first period was filled with missed passes and blown tires, the Russian team was able to put their heads down (metaphorically of course) and pull their game back into focus. After dusting off the Swiss team with a 5-2 win, they continued on their path of ice-level domination.

After scoring thirty-five goals in just five games, it’s safe to say that the Russians had no difficulties putting the puck in the net. While their defense could have been better, they were easily able to outscore the opposition. With such high-flying, high-scoring games like these, it is easy to see the excitement building around the young Russian prospects.

They looked heavily to one of the younger players at the tournament and he rose to the occasion with a record-breaking performance. Goaltending remained solid throughout the tournament. The defense limited opportunities and weren’t afraid to grind it out when needed, and the Russians showed why they could’ve been in a class of their own. By the time of the final buzzer, ending the weekend, the Russian team and put on a clinic and become the directors of the Hlinka showcase. They finished their time with nothing more left to show.

From game 1, players such as Matvei Michkov, Ivan Miroshnichenko, and Aleksandr Perevalov were hot names on the Russian roster. They were visibly able to control the play, once settled in, and had the same smooth skating style regularly found in many young Russians. Follow those names with the fortifying presence of goaltender Sergi Ivanov and it’s clear to see that these players came to the tournament with the thoughts of becoming professionals strong in their minds. NHL scouts were watching, and the players demanded their attention.

Matvei Michkov, what left is there to be said about this kid? At only 16, Michkov has taken the hockey world by storm. His 13pts in only 5 games was not only incredible, but also record-breaking. The record was previously held by Canadian Cole Perfetti as he was able to put up 12 pts in 2019-2020. He looked at that stat-line, pulled on his skates, and told his coach to hold his non-alcoholic beer. He had a purpose and a record to break, and he did so as an underaged player at the tournament.

When thinking of ages, the difference between 16- and 17-year-old players may not seem like much. But, to put things in perspective, Michkov stands at 5’10 and 159Lbs whereas a player such as Liam Ohgren of Sweden is 6’1” and 187lbs. That’s a weight difference of almost 30lbs. Now, if you will, imagine being Michkov flying through the neutral zone with the puck on his stick, only to run into the shoulder of that guy. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that. For some players, that may be enough to keep them from the game. For Michkov, it’s an excuse to keep getting better, even if it is just to avoid being hit.

Michkov has been a point producer everywhere he’s played. At 13 he scored 30 points in only 8 games in the U15’s followed by 35 in 8 games at 14 in the U16’s of the Team Center Tournament. Not to mention his 109pts in 25 games for the Lokomotiv-2004 Yaroslavl U16 team in 2019-2020. It is safe to say, that this kid knows how to score. Whether he was finishing it off himself with his deadly accurate laser beam, or dishing it off to a teammate with his tape-to-tape passes, Michkov proved to be more than most teams can handle. His skating strides seem effortless, his shot is a cannon coming off of his stick, and his hands are silky smooth. His offensive IQ is unquestionable and anyone trying to tag him up on the ice needs to be in constant motion, with their head on a swivel. Michkov has a sneaky habit of finding himself in open space.

Michkov should undoubtedly be picked up by an NHL team first or second overall in 2023. Even with his small stature, his point totals are just too out of this world to pass up. With the likes of Brayden Point and Mitch Marner showing the world that size isn’t everything, Michkov’s chances are higher than ever at being a top prospect.

Ivan Miroshnichenko was the captain of this year’s “Red Machine” Russian team. Miroshnichenko didn’t disappoint. While his 9pts wasn’t quite the record-breaking numbers of his fellow teammate, it was still a scoring pace of almost 2 pts per game.

The Russian team did not take it easy on anybody. They had no issues running up the scoreboards in every game, and Miroshnichenko had no issues being part of the reason why. His killer instinct, to go along with his talent, 6’1” 185Lbs frame, and the ability to work with the skilled players around him, make him a valuable asset to the Russian team. He has worn the “C” or an “A” for his country on more than one occasion, which shows his coach’s strong conviction in his play and leadership.

Speaking with scouts in chat groups today showed that the coaches may just have picked the right guy for the job. “Miroshnichenko is a smart, all-around player who understands the game well and is always in position, both on offense and defense. He had good offensive instincts throughout the tournament and was able to contribute both goals and assists across multiple lines” says scout David Cheung.

The coach’s willingness to move him around the lineup, as well as his ability to produce while playing away from his team’s top goal scorers, should only further show his team-first mentality and focus on the game.

Cheung was extremely impressed by the player, “Every day, every game, he gives 100% effort. He finishes hits, wins icing races, and is willing to sacrifice the body to block shots.”

The young captain is on the right path. With a little more finish in his game, Miroshnichenko can be making teams across the NHL think about how they’re going to fit his long name on the back of their jerseys.

Aleksandr Perevalov “He is a left-winger with unbelievable speed. Able to easily get a breakaway or back off the defenders and create time and space for both himself and his teammates” are the first words I heard about the player from fellow writer and scout Jonah Fleisher. Perevalov’s history seems to back up the claims.

At 6’0 and 185lbs, Perevalov has the frame of an athlete. His fast tempo play shows his desire to have the puck and quickly move it up the ice. Because of this game style, Perevalov has been able to produce throughout his young career. In the 2019-2020 season, Perevalov was able to put up 57pts in only 21 games for his Lokomotiv U16 team. Pervalov followed it up with 11pts in only 6 games the following season. This was more than enough to garner a call-up to the MHL where he was able to put up 6pts over 17 games in his first ride with the Jr team.

Perevalov’s 5pt finish in this tournament put him at a 1 points-per-game (ppg) average. When held up against the high-scoring games of the Russians and the high production of some of his teammates, this may not seem overly impressive. This could be true, but the success of his teammates should not be a knock on his own production. Averaging a point-per-game at the international level is nothing to scoff at. Sometimes, when a team is dominating to such a degree, it can easily be overlooked that they are playing against some of the best players of their age bracket. In the world.

Perevalov may still have a little more to prove but has nonetheless garnered plenty of attention. His dynamic and relentless play will keep the interest of scouts throughout the year. Fleisher made sure to finish, “He also has a tireless motor and is always moving his feet in the offensive zone, looking for places to get open and places to get the puck to shoot from.

Sergei Ivanov the “built-tough” goaltender, is built more like a racing jockey than the goaltenders of today. Ivanov shows that size isn’t everything and plays like a wall across the goal-line. At 5’11” and only 157lbs, Ivanov is small, there is no doubt about that. You may think that his thin frame would leave too much of the net exposed. His small size should lead to getting lit up like Chevy Chase on the cover of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” But his stats say otherwise.

In 22 games across the seasons of 2018-2020, Ivanov averaged a save percentage (Sv%) of .967. When bumped up to the Jr. A level of the MHL in Russia, Ivanov’s save percentage was still a more than respectable .921 and a goals-against-average (GAA) of 3.24. All outstanding numbers to be throwing up for a kid of his size. It makes you think of a young Patrick Roy.

Ivanov finished the Hlinka with 3.00 GAA and a Sv% of .911, going 3-0-0 and ultimately winning the cup. As a goalie, he did everything you could have asked of him. He was sharp in his blue paint, used angles to his advantage to limit scoring chances, and had quick reflexes on shots from in tight.

“He was a star from his beginning to end and really solidified the crease” says DraftPro scout Matt Morrison. “He plays a composed game for a small-statured goalie… He has a lightning-quick glove hand and is athletic side-to-side.”

The Russians came to the Hlinka tournament ready for action. It didn’t take long for them to settle into their surroundings and blow the doors off the competition. Without Canada in the picture, there wasn’t much resistance left for the remaining teams to hold them off. There’s not even a guarantee that they could have held back that team and we will never know.

Think what you will about the tournament this year. Put an Asterix on it due to Covid, or because Canada didn’t participate if you like. No matter your feelings of the circumstance, Russia took full advantage and showed what a winning attitude does.

They are a highly talented team who wins, and even turns the knife if they have the opportunity.

Photos: HockeySlovakia & Jan Beneš