Monday, May 19, 2008

Победа: A Russian revival and a Russian celebration in Quebec City…

The ending wasn’t quite what the home side might have wished for, both in the Le Colisee and tuned across the nation on TSN, but from the start to the finish, Sunday’s World Hockey Championship delivered as promised.

The always intriguing rivalry of Canada vs Russia played itself out on the ice at Quebec City’s Le Colisee, beginning with a furious pace for the first ten minutes of the game and then providing much the same for the final ten minutes of regulation, with much of the middle highly entertaining as well.

For a good portion of the second period it appeared that Canada was on the verge of breaking the curse of the home side losing in the championship game, the Russians ran into serious penalty troubles in the first period at one point giving up a two man advantage to Canada which the host nation gladly turned into a scoring opportunity staking a 3-1 lead at one point, which became a 4-2 lead as the third period got underway.

However, the Russians refused to yield the ice to Canadians, battling back and taking advantage of a change in Canada’s game plan which saw more and more of the play gravitate to the Canadian end of the ice.

After spending two periods taking the play to the Russians, Canada suddenly decided to protect its lead, a natural reaction we guess but one which seemed to play into the Russian attack. Rather that take the play to the Russians, Team Canada quickly found themselves playing chase the puck, with disastrous results.

As the play progressed in the third, so did the Russian tempo, as they added to goals to tie the game and start Canadian fans to squirming in their seats, wherever those seats may have been.

With the final buzzer at the sixty minute mark, the game was forced into overtime at which point the hockey gods no longer gazed on the True North Strong and Free. A clearing pass off of Rick Nash’s stick proved to be a costly error as it sailed into the crowd and resulted in a two minute penalty to Nash for delay of game, an ominous twist for Canadian hopes.
With the two teams already playing four aside as part of the overtime rules, the Russians now had a four on three to work with and made quick work of that advantage when Ilya Kovalchuk fired his shot from just outside the face off circle past Cam Ward to secure the Gold medal for Russia, the first for Canada's long time rival since 1993.

It’s unfortunate that Nash’s penalty will be one of the memories of this series, for the most part he and many of his Team Canada team mates had a very impressive series. To lose the game on an honest mistake is a hard thing to swallow, but the puck bounces in mysterious ways in sudden death hockey and this time Canada was on the wrong side of the bounce.
The way that another Canada Russia classic came to an end however, will stir debate for months. The clearing of the puck rule has been a contentious issue since it first appeared, with a series or championship decided by the call this way, seems to be cheating the fans of the tempo of the game, but those were the rules of the game on this day and Canada found itself the guilty party on the penalty call. Though in the end, it was more the comeback by the Russians in the third that secured their victory than the eventual circumstances of the winning goal.

Full credit must be given to the Russian side, which never seemed to falter even as Canada built up the two goal bulges during the play. Evgeni Nabokov while shaky at times, did provide the key saves at the right time to keep the distance close and once the likes of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk et al started motoring, there was a sense of passion and emotion that only recently seems to have become a part of Russian hockey.

Ovechkin in particular once again provided some of the most energetic and enthusiastic play of the game, there’s simply nothing that he does that is at half speed it seems, whether it’s flying down the ice, taking or giving a hit or celebrating a goal and a gold medal the kid is simply 100 per cent energy.

It’s hard for Canadians to accept sometimes, especially as we have become accustomed to the winning ways of late, but watching the Russians celebrate what for them is a reaffirmation that their program is back was a chance to realize that the game we share provides great moments beyond our borders.

The game was just another installment of one of sports great rivalries, one which at times has been more of a war than a sport. But now just seems to bring out great hockey and a sense of mutual respect for hard work and achievement.

Canada lost a game that possibly they should have had secured, but hockey is built on momentum and the Russians recovered enough of it to mount their comeback and grab their victory.

There should be no griping about the officials (both teams benefited from questionable calls), nor complaints about the late period lapses or the final penalty call that secured the victory for the Russians.

It was a game that once again provided all the competitive elements that these two teams for the most part bring to the rink whenever they meet up. More than an ending, it’s just a continuation of regular tests between the two nations.

Another benchmark which will be bested time and again over the next few years, Russia won this round and with it the bragging rights and the chance for their celebration. We’re looking forward to the next time the rivalry resumes and the best that hockey can provide us arrives again.

Globe and Mail-- Russian rhapsody
Globe and Mail-- Russia strikes gold
Edmonton Sun-- A Russian Revolution
Ottawa Sun-- Woe Canada on ice
Winnipeg Sun-- Overtime heartbreak
The Hockey News-- The Russians have returned

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