A game for a half century

CanWest News Service
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Fifty years. The memory plays tricks on us, because of World Cups and Canada Cups and world junior tournaments and all kinds of hockey games and titles Canada has won that mattered very little in the grand scheme of things to the Russians - whose grand scheme is, and always has been, the Olympics.

Russia, by any other name - Soviet Union or Commonwealth of Independent States or Unified Team - has happily traded losses in lesser theatres for the opportunity to break Canada's heart on the big stage.

Vancouver -

Fifty years. The memory plays tricks on us, because of World Cups and Canada Cups and world junior tournaments and all kinds of hockey games and titles Canada has won that mattered very little in the grand scheme of things to the Russians - whose grand scheme is, and always has been, the Olympics.



Russia, by any other name - Soviet Union or Commonwealth of Independent States or Unified Team - has happily traded losses in lesser theatres for the opportunity to break Canada's heart on the big stage.



And they've been doing it for 50 years.



But not to this group of Canadians, they haven't.



"We won a quarter-final here, and it happened to be against Russia, and we move forward," said Sidney Crosby, who was a lot more into the win than the opponent.



Until the 7-3 thrashing the Canadians administered Wednesday, the Russians hadn't lost an Olympic hockey game to Canada since 1960.



But for most of the players on this team, Crosby included, Russia is just a country they have beaten with regularity, for years. To all the under-25s on Team Canada, who have never faced Russia in an Olympic Games - because that matchup has only happened once since the NHL joined the Olympic movement for real in 1998 - the guys in the red uniforms Wednesday evening were a lot of the same ones Canada has made look bad in a series of IIHF world junior championships since 2005.



"It's going to be one country's game," Canadian head coach Mike Babcock said, "but we try to prove on a regular basis that it's ours. I'm a bit of a red neck. I think it's ours."



So the rivalry exists, these days, more in the hearts and memories of fans and media than in fact - but it does exist. Ask the crazies in the sea of red inside Canada Hockey Place, waving flags of both countries and chanting for their heroes in English and Russian. The wins are still as sweet, and the losses as bitter.



Which maybe explains the Russian team's GM, Vladislav Tretiak, pacing in the hallway outside his team's dressing room, nearly 90 minutes before the puck dropped. Even the great Tretiak could feel the tension of a loser-goes-home quarter-final.



The tension didn't last long. From the first shift, Babcock's Canadians left nothing to chance - won every puck battle, leaned on the Russian defence, punished Alex Ovechkin, punctured goalie Evgeni Nabokov's bubble.



The Russians, for all their spectacular talent up front, and the extra days of rest, were no match for the Canadians' level of desire.



In the semifinals, Canada will play the winner of Wednesday's late, late game between Slovakia and Sweden. The other semi will feature Finland and the United States.

Organizations: Commonwealth of Independent States, Team Canada, NHL

Geographic location: Canada, Russia, Vancouver Soviet Union Slovakia Sweden Finland United States

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