VANCOUVER – It wasn’t the gold-medal game . . . it just felt like it.
Thirty million Canadians will say they were there. And maybe they were – in the hearts of 20 Canadian players who felt their push.
The best of Canadian hockey was on display in this victory for the ages: Passion. Heart. Hunger. Will.
The Canadians came at Russia like a Tsunami.
“We were at the boiling point as soon as the puck dropped,” said Canadian forward Eric Staal.
As for the top-ranked Russians, they didn’t even come to a simmer, as Canada hung one of the most embarrassing defeats on Russia in its Olympic history. Officially, the 7-3 rout is Russia’s second worst Olympic loss – behind a 5-0 beating by Finland in 1994.
“Unfortunately, our Olympic Games are over,” said Russian head coach Vyacheslav Bykov, “and I apologize for how it happened.”
Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin, targeted at every turn, and especially pounded early by Rick Nash and Shea Weber, looked like he wished he were somewhere else. To paraphrase Pedro Martinez, the Canadians whipped No. 8 like they were his ‘daddy.’ One Weber hit broke Ovechkin’s stick. Subsequent hits broke his spirit.
“OOOOO-vvie!!” fans chanted, mockingly, in the third period.
And then, “We want Swe-den!!”
Finally, “We want gold!”
Make no mistake, Russia wanted this one, too.
But Canada wanted it in the worst way, here on home ice, after Russia ruined the 2006 Olympics by beating Canada 2-0 in the quarter-finals, then went on to win two world titles over Canada.
This sweet victory was a long time coming. At the Olympics, Canada hadn’t defeated the Russians in any form – as Russia, the Soviet Union or United teams since 1960, that black-and-white TV era when Canada was represented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen. That was also a rout, 8-5. Canada’s overall Olympic record against Russia just improved to 2-9, but 1-1 since the NHL joined the Olympics in 1998.
Yes, it’s been 50 years since Canada celebrated an Olympic win over this nation, and if that number rings a bell, it should. It was also 50 years between Olympic gold hockey medals when Canada won at Salt Lake City in 2002.
All day long, the city anticipated this match, and clearly so did Canada’s team, storming up ice from the opening faceoff. The Russians had to wonder what hit them (usually it was Brenden Morrow or Mike Richards or Jonathan Toews or Shea Weber . . .).
Ovechkin would have loved to upstage Sidney Crosby and his Canadian team in their own rink, but it was not happening, especially with Evgeni Nabokov springing leaks in the Russian net. The goal he let through off Morrow’s backhand, after Russia scored to close to 3-1, was horrific as well as fatal for the Russians. Canada got the bounces it did not get against the USA.
Where’s Mike Keenan when he’s needed? Nabokov should have been hooked after Morrow’s goal, if not earlier. Mercifully, Ilya Bryzgalov relieved Nabokov after Canada’s sixth goal, a slapshot by Weber. Corey Perry scored two goals, as he and Anaheim teammate Ryan Getzlaf put on an offensive show, with some dazzling passing plays. Defenceman Dan Boyle got it started, setting up Canada’s first goal and then scoring the second one himself.
“We wanted to play that physical game,” Perry said. “We grinded, played that cycle game. That’s what we have to do to be successful.”
Toews said the Canadians knew pressure would fetch rewards.
“An offensive team like that,” Toews said, “is going to turn pucks over. We weren’t going to give up and give them a chance to come back.”
The pressure on Russia’s defence was designed to limit stretch passes to their dynamic forwards. Mission accomplished. Russian goals by Dmitri Kalinin, Maxim Afinogenov and Sergei Gonchar made things mildly interesting as far as drama, but really, it was over when Canada pumped four past Nabokov in the first period.
Ovechkin was supposed to be saving himself for Canada (or maybe it’s the 2014 tournament in Sochi?). Ovechkin did little in the three preliminary games, and throughout, he’s been miserable. Par for his Vancouver behaviour, Ovechkin spoke to Russian media post-game, then brushed off all other inquiries, twice blowing through the mixed zone.
Canadian head coach Mike Babcock was heard spinning lovely pre-game yarns about this game turning into the Sid vs. Ovie show, which was a smokescreen, of course. Babcock had no intention of running Crosby’s skill line against Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Evgeni Malkin. That assignment went to a new bulldog line of Nash, Toews and Richards. Nos. 61, 16 and 18 didn’t check Ovechkin, they put him on, and wore him out. The Toews line started the game and starred in it – an especially gritty, effective performance by Toews, the young Chicago Blackhawks centre, who has found his tournament niche.
Oddly, despite the buildup of Sid vs. Ovie, neither protagonist played much of a role. Crosby did not score a point in the rout.
Still, what a chapter for young fans, just catching on to this Canada-Russia rivalry thing, rooted, in the Cold War days when Father David Bauer’s amateur nationals tried their best, then finally Canada’s NHL pros were assembled in 1972, and won a cliffhanger eight-game series on Paul Henderson’s historic goal.
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service