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Captain Podkolzin leads his Russian boys into ice battles against men this upcoming weekend

The Karjala Cup tournament takes place November 5th through 8th in Helsinki, Finland.

2020 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, final: Canada 4 - 3 Russia
Vasily Podkolzin accepts his silver medal after the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship final game. Canada defeated Russia 4-3 to capture the gold medal.
Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

The Karjala Cup ice hockey tournament is an annual event held in Helsinki, Finland. It is the first leg in the four leg Euro Hockey Tour. Four countries participate in the quad tourney showdown each year and each country hosts one leg of the four legs. The four countries involved are Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. These nations pause their first tier professional mens’ leagues to allow the four showdowns to take place interspersed throughout the hockey year.

The other three legs of the meet-up are the Channel One Cup in Russia, the Swedish Hockey Games in Sweden and the Carlson Hockey Games in the Czech Republic. The results from the four tournaments are cumulative and the prize money awarded after the completion of the last tournament is based upon the final outcomes of all games from all four tournaments.

The participating countries usually send their best professional players from their respective top mens’ leagues to the ice skirmishes. This year Russia though has decided to send its U20 National junior team to take on the mostly over 20 year old men from the other countries. They cite the cancellation of other junior team World Junior Championship (WJC) prepatory tournaments this season due to Covid-19 as the main reason for sending a very young team to a pro tournament. They say they are focused on winning the gold medal at the 2021 WJC to be held in the Edmonton bubble. The other clubs are unhappy with Russia’s decision.

But Vancouver Canucks’ fans should be very pleased with the Russian hockey hierarchy’s choice since two of their prized teen prospects have been chosen to represent Mother Russia in the Karjala match-ups. 2019 first round draft pick forward Vasily Podkolzin and 2020 sixth round pick center Dmitry Zlodeyev are expected to don tricolor uniforms and hit the ice in Helsinki.

The honor of being selected to the team is especially noteworthy for Zlodeyev as he has yet to even receive a cup-of-coffee appearance in the KHL. The 18 year old has split his time this season between his MHL junior club and his AHL-like pro club in the VHL. Most of the other chosen players have at least put their skates on the ice in the top Russian mens’ league. That said most of those players are caught in the Russian yo-yo system and moved up and down like a teeter-totter between the MHL, VHL and KHL. Or like Podkolzin, they are not given much ice time even when they stick with a KHL club.

Ice time should not be a problem for power forward Podkolzin in Helsinki though. His U20 coach Canucks’ alumni Igor Larionov loves him as a player. He has said in the past that Podkolzin reminds him of a young prime six time Stanley Cup Champion Mark Messier (not the aged perimeter pivot who later played for the Canucks).

This morning, Larionov again showed his belief in Podkolzin by naming him Captain of Russia’s Karjala Cup entry. If all goes well, it is expected that Larionov will also later this month name him Captain of the 2021 U20 Russian Edmonton bubble team entry as well.

It will be a difficult task for 19 year old Captain Podkolzin to lead a group of teens against many of the best top pro men players from the Swedish Hockey League, Finnish Liiga and Czech Extraliga. It will be tough for the young Russians not to be blown out in their encounters with the Swedes and Finns.

They may have a chance to compete with the Czechs though who are at least bringing some teenage skaters to play in the tournament.

It has been a trying overseas hockey season for Vasily Podkolzin so far. He has scored but one goal in twenty pro games this season. This get together taking place in a David-and-Goliath scenario is a great opportunity for him to get his season back on track as he prepares to join the NHL Canucks in May 2021.

The Karjala Cup hockey tournament opens on Thursday.