Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The dawn of a new Russian global hockey dynasty?

In case you didn't notice, there was an international tournament that took place in Bern, Switzerland recently. As much as even some of my fellow Russian speaking writers want to downplay the importance of the IIHF World Championships and the victory, it was an important one.
After Russia again captured the gold medal at the worlds, defeating Canada 2-1, defenseman Denis Grebeshkov said he believe it was the start of a new Russian hockey dynasty.
But Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators may be right when he said that by no means this is the start of the new dynasty.
No one can forget how the Russian juniors were crushed by their Canadian counterparts just two years ago in an eight-game series, with Russia unable to win even one game. Simeon Varlamov was in goal for Russia. And trust me, he did not forget the humiliation.
The Russians have, however, shown signs of recovery from 15 years abysmal results on the world hockey stage. The likes of Nikita Filatov, Evgeni Grachev, Dmitry Kurgyshev and others are the product of the new Russian hockey wave. Kirill Kabanov, a 16-year-old Russian, is now predicted by many to go No. 1 overall in the NHL draft two years from now.
And there is no other opponent for any of the Russian teams than Team Canada. And there is no bigger stage for the two teams than the 2010 Games in Vancouver. I had a chance to chat with Steve Yzerman about the upcoming Olympics a few months ago in Pittsburgh. While Yzerman also tried to downplay the importance of the Russia-Canada final, he admitted that this is a "historic rivalry."
The emergence of the KHL has left only the brightest Russian stars to shine on this side of the pond. For the first time ever we have three Russians finalists for the Hart Trophy (and all of them still in the Stanley Cup playoffs, before this evening.) And all of them are eager to play for their country.
"No, we don't have anyone who can play like Ovechkin," Yzerman told me when I asked him whether there is a player in Canada who can play with the skill and energy of the Washington Capitals superstar.
Guess what Pavel Datsyuk did to get ready for Game 5 against the Ducks? He watched the 2009 final against Canada.
"Not only do I know the score, I actually watched the final right before the game against the Ducks! It is so awesome to win gold two years in a row. Great, guys! Congratulations! There can be no better present for the Victory Day! [May 9 is the Victory Day in Russia]" Datsyuk told Sovetsky Sport's Dmitry Malinovsky in Detroit. Datsyuk will be an automatic choice for the Russian national team this upcoming Olympics.
He will be given a ride for his money to center the first line from Evgeni Malkin.
Is it time for Russia to dominate the world? Players Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk certainly think so.
Kovalchuk was electric after the gold medal win.
"Did I get my energy from Red Bull? A little bit. But the fans were our Red Bull! Did you see how many Russian fans were in the stands?" Kovalchuk told Sovetsky Sport's Pavel Lysenkov. "This is a historic victory for us. This is Russia's 25th title in history of the tournament. We overtook Canada now. And wherever we go now, we should be talked about as the No. 1 team in the world."
Indeed, for the first time since its establishment in 2004, Russia leads the IIHF Power Rankings as the number one team in the world.
"It's good. I know you guys are pissed off a little bit. But I think it was an unbelievable game," Kovalchuk told TSN after the game.
Is Russia the best in the world? We will know the answer next February. One can only hope that the tournament organizers will let Canada and Russia meet in the final game.

By Dmitry Chesnokov

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