Sunday, 23 May 2010

Another Russian Heartbreak

There's no doubt that this year's IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship had its share of controversy and intrigue. From an IIHF staff member ripping NHL players who decline invitations to the tournament to IIHF boss Rene Fasel issuing an apology to Sidney Crosby for being singled out as one of those players, the IIHF saw a little egg on its face in terms of attracting big names to the event. However, there were some good stories as well as the host Germans set a world record for attendance at a hockey game en route to beating the USA in the tournament's opening game, and then proceeded to thrill their fans throughout the tournament with their play. Today's championship final featured two teams that had a number of their best players in the line-up, and two teams that have a long history of battles at the IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship and throughout international hockey history.

The biggest name that appeared on the Czech Republic's roster was 38 year-old Jaromir Jagr. Jagr has never been one to shy away from representing his country on the world's stage, but he opened the tournament in an unhappy mood after finding that some of the more prominent Czech names in hockey had decided to sit the tournament out. Jagr, who may have been slightly annoyed at being one of a few marquee names on the team, saw his team fall to Switzerland and Norway by identical 3-2 scores in the preliminary round. It was the first time a Czech team had lost to Norway on the international scene in 73 years!

"It's the national team — we didn't really have any success lately and a lot of guys said no in our country," Jagr said on May 10. "Probably the top 25 guys said no and I think it's too much. I understand the guys are injured or they feel tired after the season, but look at guys like Ovechkin or Kovalchuk.

"I think you've got to be a little bit more proud of your country."
With Jagr calling out those who didn't show up, he may have also called out the players around him, and the Czech Republic team responded. After being in a bad situation with two losses, the Czechs won their next four games, beating Latvia, Canada, Finland, and Sweden to earn a berth in the IIHF World Hockey Championship Final.

The team that they would face would be a juggernaut through the IIHF World Hockey Championship again this season. The Russians went 8-0 through the games leading up to the championship final, outscoring their opponents by a 31-9 margin over those eight games. They beat, in order, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Canada, and Germany again to advance to the final. Surprisingly, the two games against Germany were the closest that Russia came to losing as both goals were one-goal victories.

After all was said and done, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, and head coach Vyacheslav Bykov had continued their dominance at the the IIHF World Hockey Championship as they had strung together an impressive 27-game win streak over the last three years in winning the last two IIHF World Hockey Championship tournaments. Eight players were looking to three-peat at the IIHF World Hockey Championship, so the Russians had motivation.

Today, the Russians faced the Czech Republic in the 2010 IIHF World Hockey Championship Final. 19132 fans packed Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany to see these two hockey powers square off for world hockey supremacy. Semyon Varlamov got the start for the Russians while Tomas Vokoun got the nod for the Czechs in net.

Just twenty seconds into the first period, the upstart Czechs took the lead. Jakub Klepis converted a feed from Jaromir Jagr, and the Czech Republic led 1-0.

The announcer gets way too excited just :20 in.
The Czechs, unable to match firepower with the Russians, played a fairly conservative period, but also killed three Russian powerplays in taking the 1-0 lead into the intermission. Vokoun made 13 saves in the first period, while Varlamov saved seven of eight shots.

Another goal was scored at the 18:13 mark of the second period. Czech captain Tomas Rolinek made it 2-0 off a pass from Karl Rachunek after Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Sergei Fedorov collided in the offensive zone, turning the puck over at the Czech blueline.

Apparently, they checked upstairs to ensure it wasn't in off Rolinek's skate.
After Ovechkin nearly ran into Alexander Semin, he literally jumped into Sergei Fedorov. Fedorov didn't even see the hit coming. With the goal, the Czechs took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after forty minutes. Vokoun had stopped all 25 shots he had seen thus far, while Varlamov had stopped 16 of 18 shots. With one period to play, the unthinkable was on the minds of everyone.

I'm not going to say much about the penalty-filled six minutes that closed the game, but here are the last two minutes of the final of the IIHF World Hockey Championship. Russia starts this sequence on a two-man advantage, trailing by a 2-0 score. Intrigue? Intensity? You betcha.
With 36 seconds to play, Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Russians, with assists to Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar.

Thirty-six seconds are a lifetime in hockey, so there was still enough time for Russia to tie the game. However, the Czechs, playing the same conservative, defensive hockey they had used against the other hockey powers, used up the remaining time to claim their first IIHF World Hockey Championship in five years!

In winning, the Czechs snapped the 27-game win streak by the Russians and held Alexander Ovechkin scoreless in the final game. Ovechkin actually finished the game as a -2, and his unintentional check on teammate Sergei Fedorov led to the game-winning goal by Tomas Rolinek.

Remember what I've been preaching for a while now about how hard work beats talent every night? Jaromir Jagr essentially echoed that in his post-game interview.

"This was probably the biggest surprise in hockey history," Jagr said to Lucas Aykroyd. "They had stars and we had guys who play in the Czech Republic, but this shows that talent doesn't matter - you have to work hard."

Kids, if you're reading this, live by that mantra. Talent will only get you so far. Hard work will always get you further. Jaromir Jagr, one of the greatest players in the world, believes in that, and you should too.

Russian forward Pavel Datsyuk was voted as the best forward in the tournament by the IIHF Directorate. Finnish defenceman Petteri Nummelin was voted as the best defenceman, while German goaltender Dennis Endras was voted as the best goaltender. Nummelin and Datsyuk were named as tournament all-stars as well, along with German defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, Russian forward Evgeni Malkin, and Swedish forward Magnus Paajarvi Svensson. German goaltender Dennis Endras was also a tournament all-star, and was also named as the IIHF World Hockey Championship MVP! Congratulations to all these men on their excellent tournaments!

The final rankings in this tournament are as follows:
  1. Czech Republic
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden
  4. Germany
  5. Switzerland
  6. Finland
  7. Canada
  8. Denmark
  9. Norway
  10. Belarus
  11. Latvia
  12. Slovakia
  13. USA
  14. France
  15. Italy
  16. Kazakhstan
Because of their finish at the bottom of the pile, both Italy and Kazakhstan are relegated to the Division I Men's Hockey Championship next season, being replaced by Austria and Slovenia in Slovakia for the 2011 IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship.

And finally, I was a little disappointed by the seventh-place finish by the Canadians, but they battled hard in every game. Without a doubt, the loss of Ryan Smyth, aka Captain Canada, took a lot of energy and grit out of the Canadian line-up, but I thought Ray Whitney stepped up admirably in Smyth's absence.

I just want to mention the Hockey Canada online store where you can find all of Hockey Canada's merchandise. They have some pretty cool shirts, including a few that are reduced in price, and it's the best place to find a Team Canada jersey if you're not in the Great White North. There's also a button on the right-hand side for convenience in case you want to do a little Hockey Canada shopping in the future!

Congratulations to the Czech Republic on their World Hockey Championship victory, and to all the teams for a fantastic tournament! A big thanks to Julia for the heads-up on the Hockey Canada online store as well, and keep your eyes peeled for a Team Canada contest coming up in the future!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: