CALGARY - Well, what kind of a world junior would it have been if neither Russia nor the USA weren't around for the medal round?
It almost happened!
After a dual goaltending clinic in the quarterfinal between the Czech Republic and Russia provided by Czech Petr Mrazek and Russian Andrei Vasilevski -- one of the greatest international junior goaltending duels you will ever watch -- the game went to overtime.
In the end Grigori Zheldakov scored to ensure the rematch of last year's memorable world junior gold medal game, in which Canada collapsed against Russia after leading 3-0 to lose 5-3.
Except this year, that match isn't the final. It's Tuesday's semifinal.
And projected No. 1 draft pick Nail Yakupov was hyping it up from the Russian perspective only moments after the Russians had left the ice with a 2-1 win, a game in which they outshot the Czechs 45-39.
"It was pretty exciting. It's a little bit nervous when they have a power play at the end and in overtime, but our goalie is best," he said of the terrific tilt before 16,581 in the Saddledome.
But without taking a breath for punctuation purposes he switched forward.
"We want to beat Canada," he said.
"We have everything.
"We want to play in the finals and win.
"We are the best team in the world junior.
"We don't need fans," he added of the Canadian crowd the Russians will experience with Canada's first tournament game in Calgary.
But it was the Czechs who deserved a better fate. Seconds prior to the game-winner, Czech defenceman Daniel Krejci went down as if mortally wounded by a high stick and lay on the ice behind the goal line while Zheldakov made use of the man advantage in the high slot. If Krejci wasn't dead, as one mixed zone media member said, then there was no excuse.
"The guy was on the ice and everybody will see high sticking on the highlights," said Mrazek of the penalty which wasn't called.
"I was happy," said the Ottawa '67s goaltender of his tournament. "But I can't talk about being happy right now. This is a very disappointing experience.
"Nobody talked about us before the tournament and we were one goal from getting into the medal round," he said.
"It was sad," said David Musil, the Edmonton Oilers' draft pick who was looking forward to going against Canada.
"Mrazek played so great. We should have won the game for him," he said.
"I don't know what to say," said Jakub Celek.
"Our goalie, he is good. But you don't score when you don't shoot the puck. You don't shoot the puck in overtime, you don't win. We had a lot of chances on the power play. We weren't shooting the puck. We don't score. For me it was very bad."
The Calgary crowd watched the game like a theatre crowd watching a great drama.
Calgary didn't cheer their Canada-Russia game away.
Three of the last four gold-medal winners at the world junior came through a quarter-final -- Canada in 2008, the Americans in 2010 and Russia last year.
But Canada was the only country in the tournament this year with a perfect 4-0 record in the preliminary round.
Canada outscored its opposition 26-5. Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings scored Canada's first goal in four of the five games in Rexall Place including the pre-tournament game against Sweden.
The Russians went through the first 11 of their periods in the round robin giving up only one goal. But it wasn't until the third period of the fourth game that No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevski finally gave one up. He'd made over 100 consecutive saves in posting 163 minutes and 17 seconds of shutout goaltending.
He didn't have much to do in the first two periods, but Vasilevski was making four-bell saves to the five-bell saves of Mrazek the rest of the way.
Goaltending is definitely going to be a focus returning to the building 24 hours later.
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