In his biggest test of the 2019 World Junior Championships, Mikey DiPietro couldn’t quite come up with the win for Canada, but he did enough to earn player of the game honours.
Canada’s final game of the preliminary round became a goaltender’s duel between DiPietro and Russia’s Pyotr Kochetkov after a couple early goals suggested it would be a very different game. DiPietro stood tall in the Canadian net and gave his teammates a chance, but they weren’t able to score more than one goal on Kochetkov.
DiPietro had an easier task earlier in the tournament, cruising to a shutout against Denmark, then making 23 saves on 24 shots against Czechia while his teammates gave him plenty of support.
Russia, however, was a tougher opponent, particularly Kochetkov. Like DiPietro, he had only allowed one goal in the tournament heading into the game and that goal also came against Czechia. DiPietro had a tournament-leading .973 save percentage; Kochetkov was second, at .960.
It was an even battle for the two goaltenders: each faced 31 shots, including multiple grade-A scoring chances. Kochetkov made 30 saves; DiPietro made 29.
Cody Glass opened the scoring just over two minutes in, catching Kochetkov off-guard after a Russian turnover with a quick shot off a neat pass from Owen Tippett. After that, Canada couldn’t solve Kochetkov, in spite of a dominant second period that featured some furious flurries around the Russian net.
DiPietro didn’t get much help on the two Russian goals. One was a power play goal off a royal road pass across the slot, with that dangerous passing lane left wide open by an over-aggressive penalty kill. DiPietro got across to the right post, but couldn’t seal the gap between his blocker and right pad, and Grigori Denisenko’s one-timer slipped through.
Until the third period, DiPietro shut the door. He made a fantastic save on a rebound against Stepan Starkov later in the first period, but mostly kept things quiet and contained. That was good to see from DiPietro, as prior to being drafted by the Canucks, one of the few criticisms of his game was that things sometimes got wild and woolly in his crease or, frequently, outside of his crease.
Pavel Shen got the game-winning goal on DiPietro in the third period, but it was again hard to blame the goaltender. Shen built up some speed and burned past Canada’s captain Maxime Comtois and defenceman Markus Phillips on the outside, then cut inside, where Cody Glass and Evan Bouchard both had an opportunity to cut off his lane to the net or at least make his attempt on net a little more difficult.
Instead, Shen got to the front of the net unimpeded and was able to tuck the puck inside the far post, as DiPietro just wasn’t able stretch his right pad across. The replay looks particularly bad for Evan Bouchard, who was a potential option for the Canucks at the 2018 draft until Quinn Hughes fell to them at seventh overall.
I was about to say “not a good look for Evan Bouchard” but it appears he had the best look in the building pic.twitter.com/qwjehAd3An— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 1, 2019
Canada started taking more chances as time was running out in the third period, which gave Russia some chances on the counter-attack. One of those chances slipped under DiPietro’s glove, but hit the post and crossbar to stay out.
DiPietro’s biggest save came on a Kirill Slepets breakaway late in the third period, as he did the splits to get just enough of the puck to send it over the net. If Canada had been able to tie the game in the final minutes, it would have been termed a game-changing save. Instead, it was simply an excellent save that kept it a one-goal loss instead of a two-goal loss.
After the game, DiPietro was named Canada’s player of the game, earning a loud cheer from the partisan Rogers Arena crowd. He ends the preliminary round with a .957 save percentage, which is somehow behind three other goaltenders, including Kyotchkov, who has a tournament-leading .964.
With the loss, Canada will finish in second in Group A behind Russia and will face either USA or Finland, whichever loses their matchup on Monday. That means DiPietro is guaranteed to face at least one other Canucks prospect in the quarterfinals: Finland’s Toni Utunen or USA’s Quinn Hughes and Tyler Madden.