Saturday, 16 May 2015

Canada Versus Republic Of Putin

Well, we're back to this old dance with these two teams. Not surprisingly, the teams with the most marketable NHL stars and the biggest stars in the Czech Republic not named Jagr will play for the IIHF World Championship gold medal. Russia, boasting stars like Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, and Tarasenko, will meet the undefeated Canadians who feature Crosby, Giroux, Seguin, and tournament leading-scorer Jason Spezza. While I jokingly call Russia the "Republic of Putin", you have to think that this tournament means a great deal to the Russians who could repeat as gold medalists if they can down Canada. Is Russia becoming a gold-or-nothing country once more?

For the first time since 2010, these old foes will meet in a gold medal final. Canada hasn't won a gold medal since 2007 and hasn't medalled since 2009. Russia, as stated above, is looking to repeat as the top team in the IIHF tournament. Canada boasts the top-four scorers in the tournament - Spezza, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Matt Duchene - while the Russians are seeing players like Malkin heating up as the biggest game looms. While Canada has been the best offensive team in the tournament by a large margin, Russia can score in bunches very quickly as they did against the Americans in the semifinal.

Russia, outside of the World Championship, hasn't fared well when it comes to their national program. They stumbled in both Vancouver and Sochi at the Olympics where Canada succeeded. While the word "hatred" isn't quite accurate, there is still some dislike over those results towards Canada, and part of it comes from an internal desire to win. While Canada showed at the Olympics that they can win with nearly flawless defence, the Russians loaded up with offence and failed. Twice. These two teams last met in 2010 in Vancouver with Canada recording a 7-3 Olympic quarterfinal rout over Russia. Russia tagged the Canadians for a 5-2 loss last year in the quarterfinals at the World Championship, but they haven't had a showdown with the stars like have on their rosters now.

Yevgeni Medvedev and Yevgeni Biryukov, two key defencemen for the Russians, aren't playing in the final due to injury, leaving just six defencemen on the roster to suit up, two of which weren't supposed to be playing. While Russia has adapted well, they have yet to run into a juggernaut like the Canadians. This may factor in. Russia has loaded up on the offence again, and it's carried them to the final but will it be enough when missing two regular defencemen against the Canadian stars?

While there are a number of NHL stars on the Russian squad, there is a still a little resentment from Russia against Canada politically over sanctions imposed on Russia for their annexing of Crimea in Ukraine. I'm not sure that this will factor in whatsoever, but you know that Vladimir Putin's government may want the Russian national program to start exacting a little revenge on the ice for previous losses and the political chess match they seem to have lost with Canada.

Politics aside, I'm quite certain that Putin will be watching the game after confirming his interest in the final. Stephen Harper? Maybe. I do know I will be watching it from a remote location in Canada with several friends, and we'll have the adult beverages flowing and the patriotism bubbling. As Russian defenceman Dmitri Kulikov stated, "Every game we’ve played up to now counts for nothing. This is the only game that matters for us", the same holds true for Canada.

All of Canada.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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