KLOTEN, Switzerland – This is when you’re reminded how much Canada means to the sport of hockey.
The scoreboard above an arena in suburban Switzerland reads: Canada 9, Hungary 0. It’s more than 30 minutes after the game has ended and the crew of people assigned to clean the rink are still waiting to start doing their job because hundreds of Hungarians remain in the stands – beating drums, singing at the top of their lungs, jumping up and down.
None of them want to go home. None of them want to see the night end.
And none of them is the least bit bothered that their team had been thoroughly beaten because to be beaten by Canada meant that Hungary had truly made it.
“Of course it’s an honour to play against every team that’s been in the ‘A’ pool for a long time, but Canada is something else,” explained Hungarian goalie Levente Szuper. “It’s the home of hockey. When you’re a little kid and when you start to play hockey, especially in Hungary – there wasn’t any indoor rinks when I started to play – you always dreamt of playing in Canada.
“It was unbelievable for the guys. We were really happy to play the Canadians. No matter what the score was, I mean still, listen …”
The last time Hungary had played Canada at this tournament was 1938, when it battled the Sudbury Wolves to a 1-1 tie. As Canada spent the intervening 70 years establishing itself as the top nation in the game, Hungary struggled in the lower classes of the world championship.
You could see almost a collective look of confusion on the faces of the Canadian players as they walked to their dressing room after Sunday’s game. It was the first time any of them had seen a nine-goal victory handled so well by the opposition and its supporters.
“Nothing against our fans in Nashville, I love them to death, but this is different,” said defenceman Shea Weber, who scored twice. “This is something special to be a part of. It’s really neat.”
Martin St. Louis led the way with three goals and an assist while Chris Mason stopped 16 shots for a shutout in his first ever international appearance. Derek Roy, James Neal, Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza also scored for a Canadian team that will take a 2-0 record into a game against Slovakia on Tuesday.
Interestingly, Canada’s biggest challenger at this event also delivered a lopsided loss to an undermanned opponent. Defending champion Russia breezed past France 7-2 in Bern.
Extra time was needed in the other two games played on Sunday as Switzerland edged Germany 3-2 in overtime and Belarus beat Slovakia 2-1 in a shootout.
The Canada-Hungary matchup turned into a blowout quickly.
St. Louis tipped home his first of the night 5:18 into the first period and it was 4-0 by the time the horn sounded for the first intermission. It was hard not to feel for Szuper, who was left alone repeatedly before getting pulled mercifully after allowing six goals on 25 shots.
“You’re a goaltender, you just don’t want to give up goals,” he said. “God, it’s killing me.”
As much as it hurt, he couldn’t deny feeling a little bit good while watching the Canadian team continue to direct shots at the goal.
Now that Hungary is back among the elite teams, it doesn’t want anyone to show mercy.
“They were really humble the whole game and this is a really big thing too,” said Szuper. “Usually you don’t see that kind of thing – when a team leads 3-or 4-zip against the opposition they will slow down. The Canadians never did.
“That’s really something to admire.”
One of the classiest gestures of all came after the game when Canadian captain Shane Doan passed his Hungarian counterpart Balazs Kangyal and wished him luck. It was yet another sign to Hungary that it belonged.
The Hungarians are playing here with heavy hearts after the sudden death of Gabor Ocskay to a heart attack last month. The good feeling in the air on Sunday night left Kangyal with only one conclusion.
“It’s a very special situation this because we lost one player before the tournament,” he said. “He was my best friend and he was the best player in Hungary. His dream was that sometime we would go to the ‘A’ pool and it’s not the reality.
“I think now he is here with the team and it’s a very special day for us.”
Russia 7 France 2
At Bern, Alex Radulov and Alexei Tereschenko each scored twice as the Russians won comfortably for the second straight game.
Danis Zaripov, Alexander Perezhogin and Ilya Kovalchuk also had goals while Kevin Hecquefeuille and Luc Tardif replied for France.
Switzerland 3 Germany 2 (OT)
At Bern, the host country earned a big win over Germany when Mark Streit scored 1:18 into overtime.
Mathias Seger and Roman Wick also had goals for the Swiss while Martin Gerber stopped 20 shots. Christoph Schubert and Christoph Ullman replied for the Germans.
Belarus 2 Slovakia 1 (SO)
At Kloten, Oleg Antonenko scored twice in the shootout while Jan Lasak stopped all three shots after being inserted midway through the tiebreaker to help Belarus pull out the win.
Andrei Stas scored in regulation for the Belarusians while Marcel Hossa responded for Slovakia.