Metallurg is ready

Karel Pilar: “This is important for our owner.”

29.09.2008
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Metallurg's Karel Pilar during the first practice in Berne. Photo: Getty Images/Vladimir Rys

BERNE – All three teams – the New York Rangers, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and SC Bern – practiced at the PostFinance Arena on Monday in preparation for the Victoria Cup, which begins on Tuesday with a tune-up game between the home side and the Rangers.

“Yesterday was tough,” Ryan Callahan of New York admitted of the jetlag. “We were pretty tired, but today was better and I’m sure we’ll be fine for the game tomorrow.”

SC Bern coach John van Boxmeer suggested his players were ready to play the game of their lives. “You always want to test yourself against the best,” he said. “We are participating in this representing the Swiss league, so the game has a lot of meaning for the players.”

Indeed, it might be a one-off chance. “The players know they have to enjoy the moment because it might not happen again.”

Metallurg’s Karel Pilar made clear his team’s approach: “We are taking this game very seriously. Our management and ownership have let us know this game is very important to them. We want to win.”

Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who expects to get the start against the Russians on Wednesday night with the Victoria Cup in the building, is eager to play. “We have to take the game seriously because we know they will,” he said. “We know it’s an exhibition game, but we also know it’s much more important than just an exhibition game.”

Lundqvist spent his summer in Europe, flew to New York for the start of training camp, and is now back in Europe before returning to New York after the two NHL games on the weekend. Yet still, he sees these games as a great opportunity.

“I went to New York on August 19, so I was there a while. I wanted to get on the ice, and I was moving into a new place, so it was easy for me. Coming over here, I slept well on the plane, so I feel good. The games are good for hockey, good for the NHL, good for Europe.”

Teammate Markus Näslund agreed: “It will be exciting to see how they match up against an NHL team.”

For Scott Gomez, it’s not just about the games. “We’ve heard about the Bern fans, so we’re looking forward to an exciting atmosphere in the building. We’re far from home and it’ll be a different experience, but we’re excited.”

Pilar sees advantages for both sides. “I believe we have good puck possession and passing, but they maybe have the advantage in speed and toughness.” But, he pointed out, “we have an advantage because we have played many league games and they are still in training camp thinking about their lineup. Still, they are an NHL team. It’s only one game, and anyone can win.”

Rangers’ coach Tom Renney sees the possible historic context of the first Victoria Cup game. “Maybe one day we can talk about an NHL champion playing a European champion playing for something big, and we can look back at this as a springboard for the whole thing.”

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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