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WJC 2020: What’s Next For Relegation Victim Team Kazakhstan?

Kurt Boyer

Who woulda thunk? Another WJC 2020 relegation-round drubbing.

Team Germany asserted its superiority over Team Kazakhstan at Ostravar Arena on Sunday, netting 6 goals on 40 shots and shutting-out the Group A upstarts 6-0 to buy a ticket to the 2021 World Juniors in Alberta.

German forward Dominik Bokk scored the opening pair of goals to give the favorites a commanding 2-0 lead in the 3rd and decisive relegation game. Bokk tallied on a Brett Hull-style 1-timed shot from the slot to beat Vladislav Nurek just past midway through the 1st period, then swept in a rebound midway through the 2nd.

Bokk’s supporting cast poured it on in the minutes to follow as forwards Tim Fleischer and Lukas Reichel and defenseman Niklas Heinzinger scored within 4:15 to forge a 5-goal lead and send the series into garbage-time once more.

Not that Kazakhstan didn’t have chances to respond. Germany took an inordinate 20 penalty minutes compared to just 2 for the Kazakhs, giving the underdogs 5 power plays in the process. However, the Team Kazakhstan man-advantage was as flat as its effort at even strength, and the reality soon set-in that an elite-level 2021 WJC berth was out of reach.

Oleg Boiko finished the contest with just 1 shot on goal and a minus-3 in 25+ minutes of ice time. Maxim Musorov snapped-off 4 shots but failed to score, his total of 6 points on the tournament just missing the point-per-game mark, Highly-touted defenseman David Muratov played only 4:45 to cap-off a bruising and frustrating 2 weeks.

There is plenty of sunshine for Kazakhstan’s U20 team, despite the disappointment of Game 3 and relegation to Division 1. Musorov became 1 of the surprise stars of the 2020 World Juniors, scoring 4 goals including 2 in the opening Group A game against Switzerland. The 18-year-old has likely played his way into consideration for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, having already appeared in 12 KHL games this season while posting 23 points in 17 MHL contests. Musorov’s sniping and passing touch could help make Kazakhstan a favorite to earn another promotion for 2022, especially since he’ll be 19 years old and facing less-skilled goaltenders in D1.

However, if Kazakhstan does beat-out France, Latvia, Belarus and other nations to ascend to the WJC proper, Musorov – and 18-year-old Oleg Boiko – won’t be around to produce offense 2 years from now.

That’s the downside of the U20 format for underdog programs. It takes a steady stream of NHL and KHL prospects to keep the motor running and reach the Q-Finals. Team Germany may find itself shorthanded without its current 19-year-old class when the World Juniors roll around again next December…and not just on the penalty kill.

Cinderella medal-round bids are becoming more possible at the WJC. But a more-realistic goal for Kazakhstan hockey in the short term is for the senior World Championship team to reach the top division of 16 nations and remain there. The country has achieved promotion to the 2020 Men’s Worlds in Switzerland (along with Belarus) and will play winnable games against Latvia, Norway, and Italy. Beating 1 or 2 of those 3 opponents may be enough to keep the Kazakhs seeded at the highest level of IIHF competition.

U18 and U20 teams often rise and fall in harmony with their federation’s overall success on the pond. Let’s hope the progress of the Kazakhstan national team continues to rub-off on an improving junior squad while it fights to attain elite status once again.

Photo ATTN: Vimeo

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