Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Russian Rendez vous!

The last time Canada met Russia in the Olympics was back in 1992 in France, the Russians knocked Canada off 3-1 in the gold Medal game, crushing the dreams of Canadian hockey fans from Coast to Coast to Coast. Wednesday’s match up won’t be for a medal yet, but it does carry the extra gravitas that the loser goes home!

One of the great rivalries in sport renews itself on the ice in Italy, as a struggling Team Canada meets up with a Russian squad that is running a pretty impressive run and gun offence. Russia made it to the crossover match up with Canada after a victory over the USA, and if Canada is to look for some good news it is that the Americans were able to battle back in a game that initially looked like it was going to go entirely the Russians way.

Of course Canada will have to play a much more disciplined game, but yet one with offence as well. After an impressive first period against the Czech Republic, Canada returned to its confusing ways at times in the second and third periods, surviving the Czechs purely on the strength of Martin Brodeur.

The Russians have a fast moving team, one which travels from their end to the opposing end in short order, breezing through the neutral zone with sharp passes. It’s a facet of their game that Canada had best be prepared for. The Americans found success on Tuesday by taking the body nicely and taking advantage of their chances when they came about.

That being said, the Russians still looked quite in control for most of the game, even when the Americans would tie or come close. The American cause was aided by the Russians removing Evgeni Nabokov after the first period, replacing him with third stringer Maxim Sakolov. One suspects Canada won't benefit from the same strategy.

Russia has accumulated 20 goals in the last four games, giving up only six and winning all four games, after suffering an initial loss in game one to Slovakia. They have increased their tempo each game and benefited from excellent goaltending from Nabokov.

The Canadians head into the winner moves on quarter final having lost two of their five preliminary games and suffering an offensive shortage that is hard to believe considering the depth of their line up. The “fragile” word has been used to describe the Canadians, not something you want to hear heading into a pivotal game.

Canada traditionally rises to the challenge of the game at hand, the meaningless games of the preliminary round now behind them, they can focus on the games that matter. And not many games can matter as much to Canadians as a game against Russia.

From the early days of the Canadian “amateurs” taking on the Russian ”amateurs” in days gone by, through the summit series of 72 and every other match up since, Canada and Russia is the matchmakers dream match up.

Canadians won’t have long to see whether their favourite sons will carry forth in the Olympic tournament, game time is 2:30 PM EST, 11:30 AM PST. The Russians will be looking to knock off the defending Gold Medal champs, Canada hoping to get back on their game and accomplish the mission they set out for when they left Canada last week.

Canada/Russia, winner moves on, loser goes home. It doesn’t get better than that.

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