What a performance. What a team.
Russia steamrolled its way to gold at the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Sunday with an impressive 6-2 victory over Slovakia, completing a perfect run through a tournament where it was barely even threatened.
The level of dominance was reminiscent of the days when the Soviet Union was known as the “Red Machine.” Consider the stats: Russia won 10 games over 16 days by a total score of 44-14.
“I was surprised that they played with a team effort,” said Slovak forward Tomas Kopecky. “Usually the Russians are more about individual skills. They were dumping pucks and they were playing with more of a team effort.
“That’s why they won.”
Ultimately, both teams walked away from an emotional evening at Hartwall Arena feeling like winners. Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov dedicated the victory to the players killed in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash while Kopecky and Slovak captain Zdeno Chara each paid tribute to one of them — wearing a Pavol Demitra sweater backwards while accepting their silver medals.
They had a miraculous run here while playing in honour of Demitra’s memory.
“We played the whole tournament very hard and there’s no regrets,” said Chara. “That’s all you can ask for from your team.”
It’s clear the balance of power in international hockey has shifted. The Russian players were inspired in their first world championship under Bilyaletdinov and celebrated on the ice by throwing their coach up and down in the air.
Like every other opponent, the Slovaks simply had no answer for a star-studded Russian roster that seems to be peaking ahead of the 2014 Olympic tournament, which will be played on home ice in Sochi.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Russian forward Nikolai Kulemin. “This was a special team.”
On Sunday, Alex Semin led the way offensively for Russia with two goals and an assist while Alexander Perezhogin, Alexei Tereshenko, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin also scored.
Zdeno Chara scored twice for Slovakia.
The heavy underdogs briefly enjoyed some momentum after the big defenceman beat Semyon Varlamov with a booming slapshot a little over one minute into the game. They couldn’t have drawn up a better start.
“It was early in the game and we knew it wasn’t going to be enough,” said Chara. “It was nice to get a lead, but Russia started to push really hard.”
As a result, it soon became clear that Russia would not be stopped. It almost appeared as though there were more red sweaters on the ice than white ones with the amount of puck possession they enjoyed.
Semin tied the game midway through the first period after linemate Alex Ovechkin blew past a defender and then the team really put the pedal down. Perezhogin, Tereshenko and Semin scored nine minutes apart in the second period, making the final 20 minutes little more than an extended celebration for the many Russians who packed Hartwall Arena.
“We just tried to play hard,” said Kulemin. “Just the right play — short shifts and hard tempo.”
Added Kopecky: “They have four lines with unbelievable skill.”
It’s the third time in five years Russia has won gold at this tournament and clearly sets them up as the favourite heading into Sochi. They seemed to score at will throughout this world championship while playing a more defensive style under Bilyaletdinov.
They only allowed six goals at even strength throughout the tournament.
Malkin put an exclamation point on Russia’s victory with a breathtaking goal in the dying minutes. Not only did that secure the tournament scoring title for him with 19 points, it was soon followed by Malkin being named the world championship MVP.
The Russians celebrated their victory with fervour and most players ran through the interview area without stopping. They wanted to get the party started in their dressing room.
“This was my Stanley Cup this year,” said Datsyuk.
Notes: The world championship all-star team: Malkin, Chara, forwards Patrick Thoresen (Norway) and Henrik Zetterberg (Sweden), defenceman Ilya Nikulin (Russia) and goalie Jan Laco (Slovakia) ... The Czech Republic took the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Finland ... Russia has come away from the tournament with a medal six of the last eight years ... Slovakia’s last world championship medal was a bronze in 2003 ... Announced attendance was 13,242.