VANCOUVER – Sometimes good guys don’t wear white. And sometimes, the villain for one group is a hero to another. That is certainly true in hockey and the fans at Rogers Arena did not get their way in the bronze medal game as Russian captain Klim Kostin helped his squad to a 5-2 victory over a hard-working Swiss team that definitely had the crowd on its side.
Not that Canadians would ever root for a Russian team at a hockey tournament, but the animosity between the fans and Kostin came to a head in the semifinal when the St. Louis Blues prospect was lustily booed in the post-game presentations, to which he responded with a pretty obvious profanity.
To Kostin’s credit, he apologized online after the game, when he had time to cool down. Personally, I find it hard to crucify a teenager for being in a bad mood after losing his last shot at world junior gold, but Kostin rectified the matter anyways.
“No one likes to lose, right?” said defenseman and Oilers pick Dmitri Samorukov. “It’s a tough situation when all the fans are against you. Hockey is emotional. He’s a leader who wants to win. He’s a good captain and does his job: he motivates.”
Kostin actually added more fuel to the fire in the win over Switzerland: after he scored, he celebrated by pretending to plug his ears with his fingers, as he stared down the crowd. Honestly, it was an incredible heel move and Kostin pulled another post-game when he applauded the crowd as they rained down more boos in his direction during the post-game ceremonies. As for the goal celly, Kostin wasn’t being malicious.
“The crowd was booing the team and me personally,” he said. “When I scored, it was automatic, but I wasn’t trying to offend anyone.”
Sporting a growing yellow bruise on his chin after the win, Kostin also noted that the Russians had a players-only meeting after their semifinal loss to Team USA and the message was pretty clear.
“We had a conversation,” he said. “And we decided to take the bronze.”
And it was theirs to take. While the Swiss were a game opponent, even coach Christian Wohlwend acknowledged that his squad did not have the individual talent of Russia; mistake-free, hard-working hockey was their only hope and they just didn’t quite do enough.
A Swiss victory would have been a tremendous fairytale ending and one the crowd would have loved, especially since Wohlwend has become a bit of a folk hero thanks to his media scrums.
But let’s also give the proper respect to a powerfully skilled Russian team that easily could have won gold, had they not run into a similarly smart American squad. Kostin’s line with center Vitaly Kravtsov (NY Rangers) and Grigori Denisenko (Florida) was the most electric tandem in the tournament and the speedy Kirill Slepets put a final stamp on his excellent tournament with a hat trick against the Swiss. Slepets has been passed over in the draft before, but I guarantee that won’t happen again this summer.
As for Kostin, he’ll head back to AHL San Antonio, where he continues to develop his heavy game against men. Something tells me he’ll get a lot more cheers down in Texas than he did in Vancouver.