BRATISLAVA – Germany shocked Russia to open the 2011 tournament, edging the perennial World Championship finalists 2-0. It was the first German victory over Russia in Worlds history. Thomas Greilinger scored the winning goal early in the second period.
Germany – Russia 2-0 (1-0, 0-0, 1-0)
After Russia twice beat Germany by just one goal at last year’s IIHF World Championship, many expected another tight affair to open this year’s tournament. But virtually no one foresaw the Germans coming out on top. It proves that anything can happen in modern international hockey.
"This gives us a lot of confidence for the tournament," said Germany's Andre Rankel. "We made history, but we have to focus on the other games now."
In a rematch of last year’s semi-final, a 2-1 win for Russia, the blue-collar Germans held superstar attackers like Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Radulov, and Alexei Morozov off the scoresheet.
"Our players executed the game plan perfectly, and we had good goaltending," said German head coach Uwe Krupp. "It was a day when just about everything worked in our favour."
Germany had never beaten Russia in 32 previous World Championship encounters dating back to March 1, 1954, during the epoch of the USSR and West Germany (23 losses versus the USSR, nine versus Russia).
This time, the Germans played Russia on more equal terms than ever before. As per their usual plan, they frustrated the Russians with stifling defence, but they didn’t simply sit back and absorb punishment while waiting for a break.
"They played much better than us," admitted Russian head coach Vyacheslav Bykov. "We had our chances but couldn't score."
There was an interesting goaltending duel in this game.
German goalie Dennis Endras picked right up where he left off last year. The 25-year-old starter of the DEL’s Augsburger Panther was named tournament MVP there, and here he stopped every shot he faced for the shutout. Russia outshot Germany 31-27.
"We played hard for 60 minutes," said Endras. "I think we were the better hockey team for the first 40 minutes. We made our gaps pretty tight and they didn’t have much room."
After playing just 22 games with SKA St. Petersburg this season, Russian goalie Yevgeni Nabokov was fighting the puck in his first official game in months. The Germans grabbed a 1-0 lead at 4:19 of the second period, when an onrushing Thomas Greilinger’s quick shot squeaked under Nabokov’s right arm and trickled over the goal line.
Vladimir Tarasenko, whose heroics sparked Russia to World Junior gold versus Canada in January, was stoned by Endras in close with under eight minutes left in the second. Moments later, Nabokov foiled John Tripp with a quick glove save.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Endras stacked his pads and said “Nein!” when Afinogenov blazed around German defenceman Kevin Lavallee for a close-in attempt. Nabokov had to make a good blocker save when the Germans got a 2-on-1 shortly afterwards.
On an unusual note, the game was officiated by an all-Canadian crew – if you count Swiss referee Brent Reiber, born in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. It was a physical and edgy tilt, and the officials let them go at it.
The tightly played first period picked up midway through. Yevgeni Artyukhin hammered Frank Hordler on the forecheck, one of several monster hits the SKA St. Petersburg forward would throw. The Germans buzzed Nabokov’s cage and had the netminder stumbling to keep his footing as Rankel nearly banked one in from behind the goal line. The Germans were hitting too: Marcel Müller bowled Maxim Afinogenov over backwards in the German zone in the dying stages.
With 3:14 left in the second period, Müller was sent off for grabbing Afinogenov in the neutral zone and wrestling his helmet off his head. Fantastic box play by the four German defenders kept the score at 1-0, and German assistant captain Christoph Ullman nearly scored on a shorthanded break.
As the clock counted down, frantic chants of “Shaibu!” and “Rossiya!” from the Russian fans were to no avail. The flag-waving German fans exulted with chants of “Deutschland!” The dogged Germans killed off a late holding penalty taken by Patrick Reimer to retain their lead.
Reimer then outraced Russia's Ilya Nikulin and Alexei Kaigorodov to score on a breakaway backhand and ice the victory with 2:07 remaining. The Russians staged a final furious flurry, but it was too little, too late – especially since Radulov took an untimely roughing penalty with less than a minute left.
"This was just one game," said Afinogenov. "Things happen. We'll just have to regroup and try to win the next one."
"Our goal is still to stay away from relegation," said Reimer. "This win helps us. We’ve got ourselves in a good spot now. But we still want to go from game to game. We’ve got a big game coming up against the Slovaks on Sunday."
Historically speaking, the win over Russia was an even more stunning result than Germany’s 2-1 tournament-opening win in overtime versus the United States at the 2010 IIHF World Championship in front of 77,803 spectators on home ice in Gelsenkirchen (then a world attendance record for hockey).
Germany beat Russia 4-2 at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. That was the only previous German victory over Russia in men's IIHF competition at any level.