The 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships came to an end today with a thrilling gold medal game between Russia and the host country Finland. The game was looking certain to end in regulation but Russia scored with six-seconds remaining to force overtime. Finland would score the game-winner 1:33 into the overtime period to take home the gold with a 4-3 win.
Throughout this entire tournament I have been keeping a close eye on one player and one player only, Vladislav Kamenev. The second round selection of the Nashville Predators in the 2014 NHL Draft, taken forty-second overall, has been enjoying his first professional playing season in North America at the AHL level here with the Milwaukee Admirals and was named team captain of Russia for this tournament. It was the second time in his career that he participated at the World Juniors and, as it turned out, the second time that he came back from the tournament with the silver medal.
When I watched Kamenev play game-by-game I was so impressed by seeing the exact same player that I was seeing here in Milwaukee. His faceoff skill was outstanding. He was defensively very strong. He took part on both ends of special teams for Russia. And displayed a quality eye for goal scoring or teeing up teammates. He ended the tournament with 6 points (5 goals, 1 assist) in a total of seven-games played.
His highlight moment came during Russia’s quarter-final game against Denmark. This was setting up to be one of the bigger upsets in World Juniors’ history. Denmark was up 3-2 and Russia went empty net to bring the extra attacker on. With forty-four seconds remaining Kamenev scored the game-tying goal to force overtime. And five-minutes into the overtime period Kamenev buried the game-winner to send Russia into the semi-finals with a 4-3 win over Denmark.
What becomes so sad about Kamenev’s time in the 2016 World Juniors is how it ended, literally. After being able to thwart Team USA in the semi-finals the Russians squared off against the host country Finland in the goal medal game. Kamenev scored a howitzer of a one-timed slap shot on the power-play to put Russia out in front 1-0 in the first period. From there, Finland was all-over Russia and poured on pressure upon pressure with the Finns looking certain to crack Russia’s defense. It wasn’t a matter of it it only felt like a matter of when. The game was tied 2-2 until a power-play goal from Mikko Rantanen with 2:09 remaining in regulation appeared to give Finland a certain win. That’s when things went ugly.
After the power-play goal for Finland was scored to give them a 3-2 lead with 2:09 remaining in the game it was apparent that Kamenev was very unhappy with the referees in regards to something. Was it the amount of power-plays going the way to Finland? Was it something that occurred to him that wasn’t called as he was penalty killing? We might not know unless someone speaks out about it but whatever was said between Kamenev and the officials led to him being slapped with a misconduct penalty. Enraged by getting a misconduct, Kamenev skated over to the penalty box and broke his stick at the door in disgust. As he entered the box he was attempting to throw what was left of his stick at the ground. When he was winding up to spike it a penalty box judge was stepping up from behind him and Kamenev’s stick smacked his clipboard out of his hands. It looked bad. It was bad. But the real damage was already done the moment Kamenev shattered his stick at the penalty box door. His misconduct penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct was accompanied by a game misconduct and he was ejected from the game.
Russia actually managed to equalize with Finland after all of this took place with a goal coming six-seconds before the final horn sounded. Overtime was forced and Finland would secure the gold medal through a warp-around game-winning goal scored by Kasperi Kapanen. All the while, Kamenev watched from down in the Russian team tunnel as his country lost out in the finals of the World Junior Championship for a second consecutive year.
I feel like this becomes a very high profile version of what I saw out of Kevin Fiala back in mid-November. What was said on the ice? Who knows. What was there for all to see? A lot. What’s important to remember here, even more so than with what happened to Fiala, is you have a 19-year old in a highly emotionally charged competitive atmosphere letting his temper get the better of him. With Fiala flipping off the Lake Erie Monsters bench? It was a small scale audience in comparison to the grand stage that is a gold medal game in a competition as hotly contested as the World Juniors. In a brief moment of his existence the Kamenev that everyone knows ceased to exist, the world around Kamenev ceased to exist, and it was a teenage kid and his anger unloading in front of a world wide television audience.
The act in and of itself isn’t the thing that worries me for Kamenev. Similar to the Fiala situation I fully understand the psychology of what’s going on. It’s youthful stupidity and emotions overcoming the surrounding environment. I get it. Still, it doesn’t change what actually happened and accountability must be had. Fiala paid for his actions with a two-game suspension by the AHL. Kamenev paid for his actions by getting ejected from the biggest game of his career to this point and leaving the ice as a disgraced team captain with his team losing on a grand stage. That’s quite a crushing punishment to hand over the head of someone. Not to mention, he leaves from that situation to Milwaukee where that image and moment stays in his head with few people that can properly communicate with him as a way to talk him through or over what happened.
Where Kamenev has been at his most comfortable in North America I have to believe is right on the ice with a pair of skates on. The sooner he gets back to Milwaukee and gets involved in a game again is when his mental healing process can officially begin. More games under his belt. The further he can separate himself from his actions that got him ejected from the biggest game of his career. His Russian team made him captain. That’s no simple pat on the back. That’s a distinction that is earned through character. When Kamenev returns to the Admirals I believe his character will be put under the microscope and he will show signs that more than just his game is impressive.