COLOGNE – If Ilya Kovalchuk had his way, he’d play Canada for the gold medal at the IIHF World Championship rather than the quarterfinals on Thursday.
“Russia-Canada, it is too bad we meet in the quarterfinals but it will be a big match for us,” says Kovalchuk, the skilled and savvy captain of Team Russia. “It is always nice when we face each other in the final but it seems the last couple of big tournaments we have faced each other in the quarterfinals.”
The last so-called big tournament was the Olympic Winter Games three months ago and the final that almost everyone expected would happen – Canada vs. Russia in Vancouver – played out in the quarterfinals.
The Canadians won 7-3, prompting Russia’s Olympic goalie llya Bryzgalov to say about the Canadian onslaught: “They came like gorillas coming out of a cage.”
Fast forward the DVD to the 2010 Words and you have a much different scenario.
After the humiliation in Vancouver, the Russians took a vow in their dressing room that day to win a third straight world championship at the 2010 Worlds. It’s not by fluke that 14 Russians Olympians are in Germany for the 16-team tournament.
Canada has one player back who mined Olympic gold, Corey Perry, and Kovalchuk said you can’t compare one elite competition to the other.
“It’s kind of special to meet Canada after the Olympics, but it’s a different tournament and it’s tough to compare the Olympics and the Worlds,” said Kovalchuk. “It’s kind of a revenge, but the real rematch will be played in Sochi in 2014 (at the Olympic ice hockey tournament). They have a really young team, but they’re hungry for the win so we have to be ready.”
The Canada-Russia hockey rivalry is more than a half-century old and it will never tire.
Canada versus Russia has produced some of the best hockey in the world. It was as much a clash of political systems and it was styles of play when the rivalry began more than a half-century ago.
As the styles have meshed, the competitive fire burns white-hot.
Russia measures itself against Canada when it comes to hockey and Canada repays the compliment.
The Russians have established themselves as the team to beat at the 2010 Worlds.
There is not shortage of offensive skill and the arsenal includes Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Sergei Gonchar and Sergei Fedorov.
Russia has won six straight games at the 2010 Worlds and takes a 25-game winning streak at the IIHF’s showcase event, dating back to the bronze medal game in 2007, in the quarterfinal..
Canada has a young team in Germany and has lost two straight games, and is still trying to come together as a team.
While the Russians are a threat every time the puck is on their stick, they are as scary without it. In the game between Russia and Finland, the Finns gave the Russians fits in the Russian end, and Finns exposed the Russian blueline for the scouts in the stands to see.
“We know how Team Canada will play and will play against us,” said Fedorov. “It will be a quick game, intense game and a physical game. We need to see who is better at handling the puck at high speed.”
The Canadians arrived here Wednesday and held a light scrimmage at Lanxess Arena. They said they are ready to resume their chase of a world title and think Russia is the perfect tonic to get them back on track.
“I think it will come down to the team that is willing to play the team game and make fewer mistakes,” said Canada’s John Tavares. “It will come down to every aspect of the game.”
Canada coach Craig MacTavish feels the key will be to stop the Russians speed merchants up front.
"You can't be caught backing off," said MacTavish. "You have to be aggressive when you play the Russians. Otherwise, they're going to come at you with a lot of speed. You want to take the game to them and that's going to be our mentality."
Perry was asked about playing Russia in the Olympic Games and whether the Canadians here can mirror the effort that stalled the Russian offensive machine in Vancouver.
“We have to take away their time and space,” said Perry. “If we are hard on the body and are sound defensively and keep that neutral zone contained we will be alright.”
The last word goes to Team Canada general manager Mark Messier.
When he picked his roster, the thought-process included the 2010 Games, Canada wanted to expose its young players to being in the spotlight overseas in preparation for the Olympic competition.
"We find ourselves here in the quarterfinals (with) an opportunity to play a team that hasn't lost in (25) games and is a powerhouse in world championship competition," said Messier.
"One of the goals of coming here was to give these players this kind of experience in this kind of game. We find ourselves in the situation we wanted to be in and it'll be a good test for them.’’
The officials for the game are: Referees: Christer Lärking (SWE) / Vladimir Sindler (CZE), linesmen: Roger Arm (SUI) / Tobias Wehrli (SUI).