Sunday, January 02, 2005

Bring on the Bears

Somehow it seems fitting that this World Junior Hockey Championship will finish off with a one game, winner take all showdown between Russia and Team Canada. With all due respect to our American friends, particularly as they've been such decent hosts this past week, but Canadians live and breathe for the chance to measure up hockey wise against the Nation to the North of us.

While a Canada/US matchup would have been boffo for the box office and would still have brought TSN some incredible TV ratings, don't think for a minute that everyone involved in Team Canada isn't licking their lips for the chance to go line for line with the Russian juniors.

Ever since we first started skating on the same ice surfaces as the Russians there has been something incredible about taking on the sons (and I guess now daughters too) of Kruschev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachov Yeltsin and Putin to name a few of the past leaders of empires past and present. Despite our now common familiarity with players from Russia in both the pro and amateur ranks there is still that extra feeling when they pull on their national sweaters and line up for the opening face off.

From Olympic games past, through the 72 summit, to the Canada Cups, World Cups, Challenge tours and junior tournies the measure of Canadian hockey is always best answered with a victory over the Russians. A loss can send us into therapy and royal commissions for years, a win and all is well in the Great White North, our step is quicker our smiles brighter. Silly yes, but the importance of the game takes on much more intensity when the Red and White matches up with the Big Reds (now tastefully dressed in touches of blue and white as well!)

Tuesday night, another chapter in the great rivalry will be written. Team Canada has looked rather impressive thus far, with less coverage of the Russians we're not quite sure what kind of team will show up. This will be the ultimate pressure game for our young juniors, having not won a gold medal since 1997 there was more than enough to think about, you add on the arrival of the Russian team and we double our fun.

Brent Sutter and the assistants have done a remarkable job of keeping the team focused on the task at hand. They have cut through this tournament like a machine (comparisons to Russian teams of days gone by continue to be proclaimed) each player knowing his place, taking to his duties without missing a beat. The chance of nerves affecting this crew seems rather slim, instead we should sit back and prepare for a terrific display of hockey.

The Russian's took to taunting the Americans at the end of their semi final game, a mistake in my mind. Despite the relative ease that Canada had in this tournament, they never once seemed to waste their time with that kind of silly behaviour. Russian Wunderkid Alexander Ovechkin was quick to the press on Sunday, busy reminding Canadians that they have never defeated the Russians in a Gold Medal game, making Sutters' job that much easier for Tuesday night.

The Russians had best have gotten the taunting thing out of their system, as they most likely won't be given much of a chance to replay it against Canada. If the Canadians stick to their game plan, stay focused on the prize there's more than a better chance we'll be hearing Oh Canada at the end of Tuesday night! Lets hope that Alex Ovechkin can follow the words!!

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