Team Russia’s World Cup of Hockey campaign started much like their last campaign ended, all guts and no glory. Twelve years have passed since Russia couldn’t beat the USA in the quarterfinals back in 2004 and if their effort against Sweden earlier today was any indication, they won’t be beating anyone anytime soon. A team that is so rich with offensive talent that is filled with Rocket Richard, Selkie, Conn Smythe, Hart and even Veznina trophy winners can never hit its stride on the international level.
Sure, they have won four World Championships since the World Cup of Hockey was last a thing but many in North America don’t take the tournament serious since its in the middle of the NHL’s post-season. After failing to medal in Vancouver, and Sochi as well as not even making it to the gold medal game on home ice of the 2016 Worlds, a new sense of hope was once again instilled in the hearts of Russian fans for some unbeknownst reason.
With the likes of Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Malkin, Tarasenko, Panarin along with Bobrovsky and Varlamov this 2016 WCOH version showed promise in pre-tournament exhibitions even without key mainstays in the national line-up such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov. After going the distance against Canada last week before blowing it in OT the team showed togetherness and heart.
Did all that good stuff carry over to the actual meaningful game against Sweden in the group B opener? Not so much. After a scoreless first period without much doing, Sweden would breakthrough thanks to a very suspect hooking call against Vladimir Shipachyov. They would double down on that lead minutes later and despite another period and a half to play the writing was already on the wall.
For years of watching this team no matter the players or coach, the team loves to turtle once they are down. The hope and grit just seems to evaporate as these superstars begin to play hot potato instead of clawing their way back in. Such was the case today, as it took 98% of the game for them to finally solve the unstoppable
Henrik Lundqvist Jacob Markstrom. The unthinkable almost happened when Alex Ovechkin looked to have scored the tying goal but did so illegally and that was all she wrote.
Now Russia must defeat North America within 24 hours or face the scrutiny of their peers, fans, and themselves should they fail to make it out of their group.