Living in the great frozen north of Canada, makes it difficult not to be a fan of the good old hockey game. I would imagine hockey plays the same role for people living in another sub zero country called Russia.
Last night’s Canada-Russia semi-final game didn’t disappoint any hockey fans around the world.
The photo above demonstrates how Russian goaltender Vadim Zhelobnyuk and the whole Russian sqaud felt with 5.4 seconds left in the 2009 IIHF World Juniors Championship Canada-Russia semi-final.
Canada and Russia have always shared a very strong rivalry on the international hockey scene even when Russia was still part of the Soviet Union.
One just has to look back at the 1972 Canada-Soviet hockey series and how bitter the rivalry was in that series, a movie based on that series was made in 2006 for CBC.
Russia leads the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship since its inception in 1977 with 26 medals and Canada is a close second with 24 medals. Canada and Russia are the top countries in world junior hockey the next team behind these two teams is Finland with 12 medals.
With the rivalry and storied history between the Canadian and Russian junior teams, clearly Saturday Night’s semi-final game was the hot ticket. Especially considering Canada knocked Russia out of the finals in 2008 and beat them in the finals from 2005-2007.
The scoring started early two minutes into the first, as Brett Sonne put in his first of the tournament. However, in what ended up characterizing the game for the rest of the night, Maxim Goncharov of Russia scored three minutes after Sonne to tie the game 1-1.
Patrice Cormier put Canada back on top seven minutes in to the first period 2-1 only to have Dmitry Klopov score 16 seconds later. The first period finished 2-2.
The first period was high paced and finished pretty even with Canada having 11 shots on goal to Russia’s 12. Canada was more disciplined in the first period with two penalty minutes to six minutes for Russia.
The second period was rather one sided with Canada out shooting Russia 13-3 and Russia spending close to half the period on the penalty kill.
Despite Canada’s excellent power play through out the 2009 campaign, Russia managed to hold Canada to one goal in the second period due to great play in nets by Russia’s Vadim Zhelobnyuk and good defense.
The score at the end of the second period, 3-2 for Canada, which brings us to the action packed third period.
The third period started with a bang after Evgeny Grachev scored a minute into the period tieing the game once again at 3-3.
Shorthanded five minutes in, the ever so skilled forward Angelo Esposito showed why he was not a player to be passed on for team Canada. Canada gained the lead once again making it 4-3.
Not to be outdone, with the two man advantage, the persistent Ruskies came back less than a minute later on a Sergei Andronov powerplay goal, 4-4.
Now the story of the game took a turn, with two minutes and 20 seconds left Russia gained the lead for the first time in the game off of Klopov’s second, making the score 5-4.
Canada did not look as sharp as Russia in the third period and being down 5-4 with just over two minutes left, fans of Canada’s team were abandoning hope for a fifth straight gold medal.
Now Canada pulled the goalie with just over a minute left and they were making plays and peppering the Russian net. Russia had a chance in the last minute to put the game a way when a shot from Russia’s end went wide and missed the net leading to a face-off in the Russian end.
Now with desperation setting in and Canada doing anything possible to keep the puck in the Russian end, Jonathan Tavares blindly shot one at the net which was blocked by a Russian defender.
The Russian defender failed to control the puck after blocking it and Eberle snatched the puck up. With the puck on his stick, Eberle made a move and put the puck high and in to the Russian net for his second of the night and more importantly tieing the game 5-5 with just 5.4 seconds left.
The third period ended even 5-5, with the shots 13-10 in favor of Canada. Canada played a little less disciplined in the third spending six minutes in the box to Russia’s two.
In overtime the tempo was high and both teams had their chances although Canada seemed fired up and Russia seemed content in trying to wait it out until the shootout.
However, both goaltenders maintained their composure and the sudden death overtime finished with no winner. Off to the over time shootout, a fitting end to a game between a rivalry of such great proportions.
Although the Russian goaltender stopped 35 of 41 shots and Tokarski 23 of 28 shots, it was Tokarski who would steal the show.
Tokarski did not allow one Russian shooter to score in the shootout. Meanwhile Canadian shooters Eberle and Tavares both scored high on the Russian net minder Zhelobnyuk to secure a 6-5 overtime victory.
Another chapter to the epic Canada-Russia rivalry has been written. With Canada moving on to the gold medal match against Sweden and Russia moving onto play Slovakia for the bronze medal.
Sweden has not lost yet in this tournament and they have outscored their opponents 26 to 6 and interestingly beat Canada’s last opponent Russia 5-0 in the round robin. It will be interesting to see how Team Canada matches up with the Swedes and whether it will be as close as Russia-Canada was this coming Monday. Go Canada!