“Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.”
Visually, the changes are undeniable, and dramatic.
From clanking Ladas driving down barren streets in the old Soviet Union to new Lexus and BMWs fighting for lane and parking space that at times seem non-existent.
From dark and gloomy downtowns to excessive Christmas light displays. From dull government stores to fashion chains, McDonald’s and IKEA. From dark and gloomy people to furs and high heels on the women and North American logos on the much-less-flamboyant men.
And yet, and yet – there is something quite the same in Ufa as there was 40 years ago when the Summit Series was played in Moscow:
Canadian disenchantment with the officiating.
Early Saturday morning the IIHF levied a one-game suspension on forward JC Lipon for a hit to the head on Slovakian forward Tomas Mikus during Canada’s impressive come-from-behind 6-3 win. Mikus appeared badly hurt as he was helped off but very quickly returned to play.
Lipon now joins sidelined forward Boone Jenner, who himself still is serving a three-game suspension handed out after a preliminary game against Sweden. Jenner will miss Sunday’s match against the U.S.A. but will finally be allowed to play in Monday’s New Year’s Eve match against the Russians.
Canada escaped having a third forward sitting out when no action was taken against Anthony Camara for the crushing check he laid on Patrik Liza that saw the young Slovakian taken off the ice on a stretcher. Camara insists he was told to his face by the referee that the hit was “clean,” only to be give a five-minute penalty and tossed from the game following a huddle among the officials.
“I asked the ‘ref’ if it was clean,” said Camara, “and he said it was clean, so I thought it was good – until I got kicked out. It was a little weird. Got taken aback at first, but I guess you have to take it.”
“That was in my mind a textbook hockey hit,” said Canadian head coach Steve Spott. “Unfortunately, there was an injury on the play – but it was a great hockey hit.”
Asked following the Team USA practice – Canada plays arch-rival U.S.A. Sunday – American head coach Phil Housley refused to suggest Canadians play “dirty,” as Russian captain Nail Yakupov has reportedly said.
“I think they are finishing their checks,” said Housley. “Some of them a little bit late, but that is the emotion taking over.
“I think they are just playing hard.”
The feisty Lipon will be missed against the Americans (1-0-0-1), but will be eligible to play against the Russians (1-1-0-0) as Canada finishes off round-robin play. The two games will decide positioning going into the final run to the medals.
“I’m disappointed,” Lipon told reporters following Saturday’s practice. “I’ve got to be more disciplined.
“My parents are here. They don’t want to see me sitting out.”
The 19-year-old Regina native, who plays for Kamloops in the WHL, was clearly distraught over the prospects of missing the very games he had hoped to show himself – Lipon has yet to be drafted by an NHL team – and feels he has slipped considerably down the depth chart because of the incident.
“Kind of sucks for me because coach comes in and says it’s hard to trust you because I took two of those majors,” he said. I’ve got to get back. Start from square one. [If] I’m going to be the 13 th forward I’ve got to work my way back up.”
Spott, however, appeared non-pulsed about the situation. It’s nothing new to him.
“We’ve been through this procedure a couple of times now,” Spott said. “We respect the decision of the IIHF but, ultimately, in my mind it’s a two-minute minor and you move on. We understand the standard is different over here. We respect it and we deal with it.”
One way in which the coaching staff must deal with the matter is in the line-up. Spott said they will go with 11 forwards against the Americans on Sunday and expect to do “some juggling during the game. Players will have to be flexible throughout the game, playing different position.
“These are world-class players, so they’ll be fine.”
In some ways, Spott seemed to welcome the early adversity coming from a couple of teams – Germany and Slovakia – that are not expected to make the medal round. Better the Canadian youngsters learn early, he believes.
“It’s the old ‘stove’ analogy,” he said. “You touch it and you get burned. You’ve got to stay away from it. We’ve preached it. We’ve spoken about it. Ultimately the players will have to understand there’s going to be consequences and a two-minute minor may be a suspension over here. That’s something these players are now really understanding.”
“Every time you go into a hit,” said Lipon, “you’ve got to be ready to pay the price of how things are being called.”
What really seemed to irk the Canadian players – and what outraged the Canadians way back in ’72 – is that European hockey has a bit of “soccer” to it, in that struck players will often embellish their falls and injuries in the hopes of drawing a more severe penalty.
“None of us go down and embellish stuff,” said Lipon. “If that’s what you need to do to get a major around here, there’s something wrong with that.
“It might be the smart thing to do, but that’s not what Canadian hockey is all about. We want to win fair.”