For gold: History favours...

From 1954 to 2009, a look back at this great, political rivalry

23-05-10
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The biggest game of the modern rivalry between the Czechs and Russians was won by the Czechs, 1-0, in the gold-medal game in Nagano 1998. Photo: IIHF Archive

COLOGNE – The first time Russians played Czechs was on March 2, 1954, at the World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden. It was so long ago that the countries then were called Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, but that historic game was tied 2-2 midway through the second period. But then Mikhail Bychkov scored late in the period and Vsevolod Bobrov scored two unanswered goals in the third to give the Soviets a 5-2 win. They went on to win gold, and the Czechoslovaks placed fourth.

The last time the teams played was on May 4, 2008, in Quebec City. Russia won that game, too, by a 5-4 score, in overtime. The hero of that game was Alexei Morozov, who scored just 3:10 into the four-on-four extra period.

In between, of course, the nations have had a long and bitter rivalry. In 1955, the Soviets won, 4-0, but two years later the teams tied, 2-2, and the year after there was another tie, this one 4-4. In 1959, it was 4-3 for the Soviets, and in 1961, in Geneva, the Czechoslovaks beat their rivals for the first time, 6-4. They didn’t win again until 1969, when the Czechoslovaks won by a 4-3 score just months after Soviet tanks invaded Wenceslas Square in Prague.

Without a doubt, the rivalry had one of its finest moments in 1972, when the World Championship took place in Prague. The six teams played a double round robin, and the Czechoslovaks won gold with a near-perfect record of nine wins and a tie. That tie was against the Soviets on April 12. Eight days later, they beat the Soviets, 3-2, in what was arguably the greatest game in Czechoslovak hockey history (although another 3-2 win, on April 17, 1976, is right up there).

It wasn’t until 1995 that the two “new” nations first squared off, in, appropriately, Stockholm. The Czech Republic won that game, 2-0. Goalie Petr Briza got the shutout, and he is in Cologne this year having successfully helped his nation secure the 2015 World Championship at the IIHF’s Annual Congress.

The modern rivalry reached its peak at the 1998 Olympics when the teams played twice. The first encounter was won, 2-1, by the Russians, but the more important game was taken by the Czechs, 1-0 for the gold medal.

Russia eliminated the Czechs in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Worlds with a 3-1 win, and a year later it was the Czechs who won, 3-0, in the quarters. In 2006, the Czechs won again, 4-3 in overtime of the quarters, and in 2007, Russia won, 4-0. The last time the teams played later than the quarterfinals was in Turin in 2006, when the Czechs won 3-0 to win bronze and take Russia off the podium.

One interesting fact. The Czechs are 2-0 in shootouts this year in Germany and have an all-time record of 6-1 in the penalty-shot contest. In games decided in overtime, they are a more average 5-4. The Russian don’t much care for any extra time. They are 2-4 in OT and 2-1 in shootouts.

In short, one can make three generalizations. In the old days, the Soviets won the majority of the games. In the modern era, the Czechs have an advantage, but only slight. In overtime, it’s 50-50, and in shootouts, the Czechs are heavy favourites.

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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