Friday, 10 April 2009

Game One - Slovakia vs. Russia

It's 8:38am, and I'm watching the warm-ups for both teams right now. Slovakia is closest to me at my end of the rink, running breakaway drills. The Russians down the far end are running three-on-ones, and are completely victimizing their goalie. I don't have a roster yet for either team, but they are working on getting me info before the game starts. The Slovaks are in their traditional white Nike Swift uniforms, while the Russians are in red. However, something that would make Uni Watch Blog's Paul Lukas happy, there is not one Nike logo anywhere to be seen. It's strange to see two international teams on the ice with no names on the back of their jerseys, but, like any international ice hockey game, you're playing for the country on the front, not the name on the back.

I'll be honest - the Russians look big and fast. While this doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot in warm-ups, it will be interesting to see these two teams in action. The Slovaks appear to have a great deal of speed as well, but they are not as big as the Russian squad by any means.

It's now 8:57am, and I have rosters sitting in front of me. The Slovak team has numbers all over the place, ranging from #1 (goaltender Branislav Puskac) to #91 (defenceman Maros Sagula). The Russians, on he other hand, still run their numbers in traditional fashion: #1 to #20 for the roster.

It's 9:00, and the on-ice officials have taken to the ice. Both teams take to their bluelines at 9:01 for the pre-game ceremonies. Being that this is the 1st World Deaf Ice Hockey Championship, the ceremonial faceoff is pretty special for me to see. Rarely does one have the opportunity to watch an historic event such as this. Forward Oleg Danilenko from Russia and forward Robert Palicka of the Slovaks meet at center ice for the ceremonial faceoff to kick off the tournament.

9:08 marks the puck drop for the first game of the tournament. Here are your highlights:

  • First minute of action shows Russia's puck-moving skills. They dominate along the end boards in Slovakia's end. An icing by Slovakia breaks up the play, giving us our first whistle (and corresponding light show!).
  • Russian Roman Chernov's low wrist shot at 18:11 is stopped by goaltender Jon Kuchta for the first chance of the game.
  • With 16:50 to go in the first period, Russia strikes first. #11 Denis Kholin picks up a loose puck and shelfs it over top of a sprawling Kuchta top open the scoring. Russia leads 1-0.
  • Russia strikes again at 15:34. #19 Oleg Vasyanin notches his first of the tournament. Russia leads 2-0.
  • Viktor Lazarev earns the tournament's first penalty. However, the Russians kill it off, maintaining their two-goal lead.
  • 10:57 remaining, and it's been all Russia thus far. They really have an effective cycling game in the corner, and their forecheck has been all over the Slovakian defence.
  • 10:41 sees Slovakian defenceman Tomas Kristof sent off for tripping. Nine seconds is all the Russians need with the man advantage as #21 Konstantin Bobov pots the powerplay marker. Russia leads 3-0.
  • 10:14 has the Russians on the scoreboard again. #15 Sergey Kargin roofs the puck over Kuchta's glove-hand for his first of the tournament. Russia leads 4-0, and really is in control of this game.
  • The 9:00 mark sees Russia add another marker. With teammate Alexey Kulikovskiy sitting in the penalty box, #9 Roman Chernov notches a shorthanded goal. Russia leads 5-0.
  • Sergey Osipov notches a shorthanded marker at the 11:00 mark. Russia leads 6-0.
  • 7:52 sees Russia add a powerplay goal. #8 Rustam Gafurbaev fires a slapshot from just above the blocker-side faceoff circle past Kuchta. Russia leads 7-0.
  • 4:27 sees Russian defenceman Evgeniy Zabelin on a penalty shot! It appeared that a Slovakian defenceman may have covered the puck with his hand in the crease. Zabelin's shot, however, goes high and wide for an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt.
  • 1:09 left in the first, and Russia adds another goal. #10 Oleg Danilenko banks one in from behind the net off goaltender Kuchta. Russia leads 8-0.
  • 21 seconds remain, and Russia nets another. Oleg Danilenko scores his second in succession. Russia leads 9-0.
  • Slovakia looks like a beaten team at the end of the first period. Goaltender Kuchta left the ice with his chin buried in his chest. I'm not saying that Slovakia can't compete, but this game is a mismatch through and through. Russia has dominated every facet of this game.
As I sit here during the intermission, the St. James Civic Centre in Winnipeg is using an electric-powered zamboni as part of their effort to go "green". The zamboni is much smaller than a traditional zamboni, and looks a lot sleeker than the box-style carbon-producing zamboni.

I would assume it is easier to steer being smaller, meaning better handling in the corners! Ok, it's 9:55am, and it's the best humour I have at this moment. My apologies for the groaner.
  • As I as wandering down near the statisticians, I couldn't help but notice the roster I have is significantly different than what the stats people have. I'm going to have to make changes. This article will be correct when posted, but this will add time to my work.
  • Second period is underway. Russia's goaltender, Iskander Latypov, has the best seat in the house. He hasn't moved since the whistle blew, and we're over a minute into this period.
  • And no sooner do I say that, but Russia has scored again. #17 Aleksey Baburkin wired a shot from the point to the back of the cage. Russia has a double-digit lead at the 18:56 mark. Russia leads 10-0.
  • The 18:08 mark sees Russia capitalize again. #15 Sergey Kargin nets the 11th Russian goal. Russia leads 11-0.
  • Russia isn't letting up. They score again at the 16:51 mark when #22 Alexey Kulikovskiy fires home another goal from just outside the crease on the glove-side. Russia leads 12-0.
  • The Russians strike again at 15:43. #17 Aleksey Baburkin takes a feed from the corner and snaps it by Grnac on the blocker-side. Russia leads 13-0.
  • The Russians are holding back now, but shots are still finding their way in. #8 Rustim Gafurbaev launches a slapshot from just inside the top of the faceoff circle that gets under Grnac's arm. Russia leads 14-0.
  • The Russians added a second shorthanded marker at the 6:46 mark. After showing some great acceleration to speed away from the Slovakian defencemen, #15 Sergey Kargin made a nice forehand-backhand move to deke Kuchta and slide it home. Russia leads 15-0.
  • On a phenomenal rush, Slovakia has broken the goose egg! Assistant captain and #12 Frantisek Bolebruch streaked down the left boards past a Russian defenceman and corraled the loose puck. The Russian defender caught up to him and worked to pokecheck him, but Bolebruch maintained control as he streaked in on the Russian net. With a quick flip of the puck, Bolebruch put it up and over Iskander Latypov to get the Slovaks on the board. Russia leads 15-1.
  • Honestly, Bolebruch's goal has really brought the Slovakian team to life. They are forechecking hard again, and no longer sitting back. While the game is out of reach, the Slovaks seem to have some much-needed confidence once again. The largely pro-Slovakian crowd seems to be back in the game as well. Or they could simply be cheering on Bolebruch's effort. Either way, a good response from the crowd.
  • As the second period closes, the Russians lead by two converted touchdowns. But it's great to see the Slovaks playing hard while being down this much. That says a ton about their character.
Second intermission and I'm relaxing on this one. I'm not cheering for one team or the other here, but the highlight of this game so far, according to this writer, is the goal by Frantisek Bolebruch. It was a pure hustle-and-determination goal, and really lit a fire under Slovakia. While it's clear that the Russians have a decided advantage in talent, there is no other intangible that can match heart, hustle, and determination.
  • Third period is underway, and the Slovaks are still playing strong. The Russians are sitting back in what clearly is an effort not to humiliate the Slovaks, and I find that classy. Yeah, they're still up by 14 goals, but their skill level could have them up by a lot more. Good on the Russians for playing hard, but not running up the score. The hockey gods will smile upon that.
  • Russia cleans up in front of the net at 16:32 to add to their lead. The rebound couldn't be controlled by Kuchta, and #11 Denis Kholin slid it into the back of the net. Russia leads 16-1.
  • The Slovaks, however, show their dogged determination and net another goal at 16:19. #28 Tomas Mateovic tickles the twine with a low shot on the powerplay that eludes Latypov from in front of the net. Russia leads 16-2.
  • 14:25 sees a timeout called by Russia. The reason? Goaltender change. #30 Anatoly Potapov enters the game.
  • 13:47 has a Russian goal waved off due to international ice hockey rules. A slapshot was taken off the mask by Slovakian goaltender Jon Kuchta, and the play was blown dead as the Russians slid the rebound home. Good call by the referee as he caught the contact with the mask.
  • 12:33 sees Potapov make his first save off a shot by Slovak Martin Simon.
  • 12:02 has Russia adding to their total. #11 Denis Kholin scored on the powerplay from the top of the crease. Russia leads 17-2.
  • A low shot through the five-hole at 9:32 gives Russia the "sweet sixteen" lead. Russian captain #10 Oleg Danilenko widens the chasm in the score. Russia leads 18-2.
  • The Russians capitalize on another powerplay at 6:34. #11 Denis Kholin scores while falling from a scrum in front of the Slovakian net. Russia leads 19-2.
  • With 2:57 left, Slovakian forwards Tomas Mateovic and Martin Simon break in on a two-on-one. A beautiful behind-the-back pass from Mateovic to Simon sends Simon in alone on Trofinov, but the Russian goalie breaks up the chance with a great stick-check.
  • With 57 seconds left, Slovakian defender Martin Zizka blocked a shot right below the kneecap that dropped him. With the Slovaks playing shorthanded as Zizka lying on the ice holding his knee, Russia struck again as #5 Vyacheslav Kazantsev taps home a gift-wrapped goal on the doorstep. Russia leads 20-2.
  • With 35 seconds left, Russia potted another goal as #8 Rustam Gafurbaev netted the 21st goal for Russia. Russia leads 21-2.
  • The final buzzer sounds at 11:25am Central Time, and Russia is 1-0 with a 21-2 thrashing of Slovakia.
As the teams line up for Player Of The Game ceremonies, this felt like the old Russian Red Army team playing against some of the weaker European teams. Russia has a distinct skill advantage, and their systematic play is excellent. Russia definitely has to be considered a favorite at this tournament.

Player Of The Game - Slovakia: #19 Robert Palicka.
Player Of The Game - Russia: #11 Denis Kholin.

One great thing to see after the game? Friendly handshakes, hugs between Slovak and Russian players, and lots of pictures taken between the two teams. Players posed with their opposition as lots of people from both sides brought out cameras for photo opportunities. This is why I love coming to international tournaments - once the game is over, everyone is on even terms.

With Game One of the tournament in the books, I'm going to grab some lunch. The next game starts at 1:00pm Central Time, and features Finland against the USA.

I will say this about today's events: as a hearing person, I am definitely in the minority at today's games. But the people hosting the event and organizing the event have been top-notch in making me feel welcome at this event. A huge "thank you" goes out to all the staff working and volunteering at this event for their hospitality!

Until this afternoon, keep your sticks on the ice!

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