IIHF games impress spectators at The Huck

The Russian bench showed team unity by locking arms as they watched the tie-breaking shoot-out that closed out their International Ice Hockey Federation U18 exhibition game against Slovakia Sunday at the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center in Thief River Falls.
by Mike Lundgren
Sports Editor
Fans who took in Sunday’s start to a five-game exhibition series at the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center for teams prepping for the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Championship were treated to an eye-opening display of talent and high-end play from young skaters who would be in the high school junior/senior age group in the United States.
Players from Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Finland combined quickness, speed, power and finesse into a package that held the fans’ attention even without the name recognition that accompanies the high school, college or pro games.
The first-day doubleheader opener matching Russia against Slovakia was particularly entertaining. The rivalry between the two countries was evident from the outset and the contest produced even more attention with a penalty shot, an overtime and finally a tie-breaking shoot-out that put the ticket price into a bargain-of-year category.
Russia jumped out to a 2-0 lead, fell behind 3-2, then tied it on a Maxim Marushev goal at 15:13 of the third period.
Most viewers figured that was it. There was no real reason to have a winner. 
But the fans received a bonus when it was announced a 4-on-4 five-minute overtime would be played. 
With no change in the score, another treat for the spectators: a shootout.
The final showdown went through four shooters on both sides. The only goal came from Slovakia’s third shooter, Samuel Bucek. It ended when Russia’s No. 4 shooter, Kirill Maximov, shot wide.
While the twinbill nightcap did not hold the same end-to-end excitement, Finland nevertheless made a statement with a 6-0 win over a Switzerland team that had impressed onlookers with its team speed in earlier open-to-the-public practice sessions. 
Finland goalie Niilo Halonen registered the shutout and forward Sami Moilanen scored twice for the winners, who netted two goals in each period.
A single Monday night game found Denmark out-scoring Latvia 5-4. The winners led 2-1 after one period and had a 3-2 edge at the second break. 
It was 5-3 before Latvia’s Emils Gegeris scored at 14:29 to make it a one-goal difference. But a late-game penalty prevented Latvia from pulling its goalie until the final seconds.
Tuesday games matching Switzerland against Slovakia and Latvia vs. the All-Stars (a collection of Minnesota high school players) completed the exhibition series.
The IIHF U18 World Championship will run April 14-24 in Grand Forks, N.D.