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Zaugg: More ballet than murder

Canada and Russia both deserve a gold medal

17-05-08
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Two generations and one old clash. Canada's Rick Nash with former USSR goalie Vladislav Tretiak, now President of the Russian Hockey Federation. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Jukka Rautio

QUEBEC CITY – Finally, the dream has come true. Canada will face the Russians in a World Championship gold medal game for the first time since this format was invented in 1992.

And for the first time since the 1992 Albertville Olympics, where Russia won gold, these two hockey superpowers will play for a title in men’s hockey.

Perhaps the highest level of hockey ever reached was in the 1987 Canada Cup between the archrivals. Canada won the trophy in a three-game final series, losing 6-5 in Montreal before posting back-to-back 6-5 wins in Hamilton.

Both Canada and the Soviet Union had some of the best players of all time in their lineup. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Fetisov. It was amazing.

So will be the gold medal game at the 2008 IIHF World Championship be the best of all time?

Why not? At the very least, in many ways it is the best possible final to celebrate 100 years of international hockey.

At this tournament, talent has triumphed over tactics. The game has been played on offence more than on defence. Now the two teams with the best offensive firepower will clash for gold.

Dany Heatley versus Alexander Ovechkin. It’s a great prospect.

Canada and Russia are truly deserving of playing in the final in the year we celebrate 100 years of international hockey.

These two nations dominated most of the IIHF’s first century. The Canadians have won 24 gold medals and the Russians 23, 22 of them in the jerseys of the former USSR.

They have both had more influence than any other countries on the development of the game we love. The Canadians invented hockey. But the Russians perfected the game, and have brought it to a higher level since they debuted in international competition in 1954 by winning their first gold medal.

Without the Russians, hockey would still resemble the “good old days” of the NHL, with more goons than Dany Heatleys, and more clutching and grabbing than tic-tac-toe plays and scoring.

On the other hand, hockey would not have its special brand of dynamism, toughness, passion and intensity without the Canadians, and it would look more like field hockey.

Canadian poet Al Purdy once called hockey a combination of murder and ballet.

Now, we’re leaning more toward the ballet.

On paper, I believe the Russians are the much better team. They are well-balanced, they are faster and they have had better goaltending in this tournament since adding Evgeni Nabokov. It’s the first time since 1983 (when Vladislav Tretiak was their goalie) that they have had truly world-class goaltending at the Worlds.

But the Canadians have always found ways in the past to beat better teams. The jersey with the Maple Leaf gives them extra energy.

This time, they’ll need a lot of this extra energy to become the first team since the 1986 Soviets to win the gold medal on home ice.

However, for what the Russians and the Canadians have done so far for our game, both deserve to win a gold medal in the IIHF’s centennial year.

KLAUS ZAUGG

Klaus Zaugg is a Swiss hockey journalist who has covered the IIHF World Championship since 1981. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.

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