Russian 'tender has his moments

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- If Russia is to continue its recent domination over Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, goalie Anton Khudobin needs to play a starring role. In the three gold medal games between the two squads since 1999, Russia has won each of them and in two of those three, goaltending was a factor.

Although Team Canada goalie Jeff Glass has been under the microscope from the very beginning, not much has been said about Khudobin, a seventh-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in the 2004 NHL entry draft who plays for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the Russian Super League.

When you talk about Russia, the first two names that come up are Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, the first- and second-overall picks in the 2004 NHL entry draft.

But if Russia is to come away with gold tonight Khudobin, who has a 2.25 GAA and .909 save percentage in four games, needs to play well against a high-powered Canadian attack that has produced 35 goals in five games during the tournament.

"In the first game (a 5-4 loss to the U.S.), he was really nervous but (Sunday night), he was really good," said Ovechkin, referring to the 7-2 win over the U.S. in the semis. "He's (found) his game."

In recent days, both Ovechkin and Czech Republic captain Petr Vrana questioned Canada's goaltending.

Most Canadian players had an opportunity to watch Khudobin play on Sunday night but they weren't taking any shots at him yesterday.

Stephen Dixon, a forward on Canada's energy line, faced Khudobin in the first two games of the Canada/Russia Challenge and was impressed by the keeper who backstopped Russia to back-to-back shootout wins over the QMJHL.

"He played two great games against us," said Dixon. "We know he's a good goalie and just like every other goalie here, we have to get some traffic in front and fire a lot of shots."

Sidney Crosby missed the two games of the Canada/Russia challenge with an ankle injury but recognized Khudobin's talent.

"He played unbelievable, he was the reason they won those two games," said Crosby.

"He kept them in the game the whole time, so for sure we're going to be tested there. We're going to have to make sure we're driving the net because most times he's making the first save."

Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter doesn't think goaltending is the Russians Achilles' heel.

"Their goaltending is good too," said Sutter. "I think their whole team is good. They wouldn't be to this point if they weren't. Everyone recognizes certain players, but it's not always those players that are going to be the difference at the end of the day."


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