BERN, Switzerland – The rivalry has returned.
After watching Russia capture another gold medal at the IIHF World Hockey Championship with a 2-1 victory over Canada on Sunday, it was impossible not to note some growing animosity between the sport’s original superpowers.
Consider it a new generation of players acting out international hockey’s traditional storyline.
It’s important to remember that the plot had been lost. The Russians went 15 years without winning a world championship but now have two in a row – delivering heartbreaking losses to Canada in consecutive years.
Is this the start of a new Russian dynasty?
“I think so, yes,” said defenceman Denis Grebeshkov.
Not everyone believes that matter has been resolved.
“I don’t think it’s a dynasty for them by any means,” said Canadian forward Dany Heatley. “I think they’ve got some great young players but so do we. I think we’ve got some of the best players in the world in Canada, especially the young guys that are coming up.
“I think it’s going to be a good rivalry for years to come.”
There might be some bad feelings left over from this one.
Alex Radulov scored the eventual game-winner for Russia on a nice individual effort and followed it with a dramatic celebration that caught the attention of the Canadian team. He twirled his stick and then opened his arms wide.
“That’s Radulov, he does that all the time,” said Canadian captain Shane Doan. “That’s to be expected.”
Oleg Saprykin had the other Russian goal and Ilya Bryzgalov made 37 saves. Jason Spezza replied for Canada while Dwayne Roloson stopped 15 shots.
This could have been a Canadian victory.
Heatley rang a shot off Bryzgalov’s mask, Doan fumbled a potential breakaway pass, Matthew Lombardi failed to get a shot away on a dangerous 2-on-1 and Steven Stamkos made a couple nice moves before having the puck land on top of the net.
“We more than doubled their shots, attack time was more than double probably,” said Stamkos. “I thought we played arguably our two best periods of the tournament in the second and third. It’s one of those games, it’s a disappointing feeling.
“You’re angry at yourself. We had so many opportunities.”
The Russians employed a different style and sat on their one-goal lead for much of the third period. Canada pushed hard for the equalizer and defenceman Shea Weber had a shot go off the outside of the goal in the final minute.
Once time expired, the Russians had another exuberant celebration while the Canadians helplessly looked on. The classy Doan even fired an opponent’s glove into the stands at PostFinance Arena in a rare display of frustration.
Yes, the Canada-Russia rivalry is alive and well heading into the next major international hockey tournament – the Vancouver Olympics. Even Steve Yzerman, Canada’s executive director for that event, took note.
“Absolutely, two finals in a row and great hockey games,” said Yzerman. “Having said that, the Swedes are going to be a powerhouse again and the U.S. is coming, the Finns. Anybody can win the Olympic tournament.
“Definitely, the Russian program’s back on track.”
The point is especially well made after this tournament. Sweden beat the U.S. 3-2 in the bronze medal game earlier Sunday and there wasn’t a wide gap in talent between those top four.
Canada has now established itself as a consistent performer at the world championship with appearances in final in six of the past seven years. The country is 3-3 in those gold medal games.
This one was a prime example of how small the gap is between winning and losing.
“We’re not down by the way we played,” said Rolson. “We’re down by the result of the game.”
Overall, Canada was able to establish more consistent control in the offensive zone but there were constant reminders of the individual skill possessed by the Russian players.
Radulov displayed plenty of that when he carried the puck over the blue-line, outwaited defenceman Chris Phillips and beat Roloson at 14:30 of the second period. As if that wasn’t enough to get the attention of the Canadians, the former NHLer-turned-KHLer certainly raised some eyebrows with his celebration.
It was 2-1 Russia at that point and there was still more than 25 minutes to play. However, no more goals would be scored.
“I mean Canada played a great game, they had a really good team,” said Radulov. “We were a little bit lucky. It was an even game.”
All was not lost here for the Canadian team.
Martin St. Louis was the top scorer in the tournament with 15 points and was named to the tournament all-star team along Weber and Stamkos. Weber was also named the top defenceman.
The team never seemed to have much luck on its side.
Scottie Upshall was suspended for a game early in the tournament after a fairly innocent hit while James Neal and Ian White both went home early with injuries. On top of that, four players were brought in after the tournament started to create a fair bit of flux.
Coach Lindy Ruff did a good job to keep everything together and get Canada within one goal of the gold medal. Even though this was his first international coaching assignment, he may have taken the loss to Russia hardest of all.
“We carried most of the play for the last 40 minutes, but we’ve got a silver and they’ve got a gold,” said Ruff. “Hockey sometimes is a cruel sport.”