It’s no secret that the strong play of Caps goaltender prospect Ilya Samsonov was a major factor in the Russian U20 team’s strong showing throughout the World Junior Championship. But against Sweden in the bronze-medal game, the 19-year-old Samsonov was especially motivated because of the team’s recent, emotional loss against the Americans.
Samsonov played like a man possessed, despite an excruciatingly painful injury he suffered in the second period.
“After yesterday’s game against the Americans, we drew some conclusions,” Samsonov told reporters after the 2-1 overtime victory. “We mulled over [the] loss, but really we hadn’t gotten over it, so we used those emotions to start the game [against Sweden]. I’m really glad it worked out the way it did. The guys fought until the end, no one gave up, and everyone believed in the win. We were like one unit, which helped us pull off the victory.”
After the win, Samsonov confirmed that he had been hurt during the game, thereby making good on his pre-game promise to “lay it all on the the line.”
“My leg went out, and something popped,” Samsonov recounted of his injury to Sport-Express’s Aleksei Shevchenko. “The pain was awful.”
Not awful enough, apparently, to consider going to the bench.
“You absolutely have to play those games from start to finish,” he said. “The thought didn’t even cross my mind.”
The injury was later revealed to be a groin pull, possibly sustained at around 17:40 into the second period after Samsonov awkwardly fended off a series of shots from forward Andreas Wingerli. Though he was in obvious pain after the saves, Samsonov was so eager to stay in the game that he actually gave the order to Head Coach Valerii Bragin.
“He told us that he was going to play,” said Bragin. “We agreed.”
Samsonov’s display of skill and tenacity led Bragin to name him, along with teammate Kirill Kaprizov, as “the best players in the tournament.”
In holding off the relentless Swedish attack, Samsonov also earned high accolades from former Soviet National Team goalie and famed coach Yuri Novikov, among others.
“I believe Samsonsov was the best player on the team,” Novikov commented to Championat.ru’s Vladislav Utkin. “I can only imagine with horror what will come in the future if we don’t have a goalie of that caliber [on our team]. If we don’t, no team we put together will be able to win medals.”
After the previous day’s game against the U.S., Novikov had been critical of aspects of Samsonov’s play, noting that the goalie had “allowed errors” that the Americans were able to exploit. Following the Bronze-Medal game, however, Novikov’s praise for the young netminder was unequivocal.
“Samsonov is one of the best goalie prospects of his age in the world — that’s a fact.”
The young netminder still has a ways to go before playing in the NHL. But the raw talent and strength of will Samsonov clearly possesses in spades will serve him well if, and when, he joins his fellow countrymen in DC.
Headline photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
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