(courtesy of Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
The big red machine is back. In what was a case of Déjà vu for many, yesterdays 6-2 thrashing by Team Russia against an inspired Slovakian team was an ode to the Soviet times. Back then Russia was not only the most feared country in the world but also instilled fear on their opponents on the ice. You won’t find the legendary names like Tretiak or Kharlamov on the backs of today’s squad but with their performance throughout this tournament these players have the ability to become something better.
Russia entered their fourth gold medal game in five years yet to feel defeat. A nine game undefeated streak which saw them score the most goals of any team and never trail by more than one showed the resilience once displayed by the old guard. This new breed of Russian hockey players however did it all in style. Exuberant celebrations, grins from ear to ear, things that were never seen in the Soviet heyday have now changed to the European joy possessed by the common man.
Slovakia opened the affair with a goal coming off captain Zedno Chara’s stick. A rocket from the point that two Semyon Varlamov’s wouldn’t stop. The lead however was short-lived when Alexander Semin/Syomin equalized on a one-time from Capitals teammate/BFF Alexander Ovechkin. Russia would go ahead on a Alexander Perezhogin tally in the second as the flood gates would open from there. Goals from Alexei Tereshchenko, another by Semin, Pavel Datsyuk would have Russia up 5-1 before Chara added another to make it respectable.
With time winding down, Evgeni Malkin carried the puck from his blue-line into the Slovak ice to blast an emphatic shot past Peter Hamerlík, who replaced the supposed best goalie of the tournament, Ján Laco. The goal (below) would put an exclamation mark on the victory and would give Malkin the MVP and best forward awards. The Art Ross winner and eventual Hart and Lindsay recipient played out of his mind tallying 11 goals and 8 assists in 10 games while finishing with a +16 rating.
The career year displayed by Malkin in the NHL crossed over into Sweden/Finland as he made quite the case to have the captaincy come 2014 in Sochi. While Ovechkin may be an official spokesman for the Olympics it has been Malkin in recent years who has stepped up when it counted. His resume speaks for itself as his closet is just shy of Olympic gold. His return following a surgery which has ended many careers has been nothing short of remarkable. As far as I’m concerned he is the face of Russian hockey.
What’s more impressive about this team is that they were missing some big names who will certainly suit up come Sochi. Ilya Kovalchuk, Anton Volchenkov, Alexei Morozov, Alexander Radulov, Ilya Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov are notable omissions not to mention the youth of Russia aiming to make the squad as well.
Russia’s pride has never been damaged much and with their 26th gold medal yesterday it gives us all more hope for the future. Sochi can’t come fast enough. Revenge is on the horizon.