QUEBEC CITY – When Russia faces Finland and Canada takes on Sweden on Friday, it won’t mark the first semi-final meetings between those teams. In fact, the last time they faced each other in the very same situation was one year ago. Everything looks perfect for a revenge bid - even the home ice advantage is the same as in Moscow. And the schedule looks familiar too, with Russia having the early game and Canada the later one.
Semi-finals have been played at IIHF World Championships since 1992, but this is the first time ever that both match-ups have been repeated one year later. Last year, Canada and Finland qualified for the gold medal game. The Canadians wound up celebrating their third World Championship title in the last five years, while Finland had to make do with silver once again.
In the 2007 semi-finals, Atlanta Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen was Finland’s hero. Russia’s high-calibre offence only generated one goal, and Lehtonen made 29 saves. Russia had been the most dominant team in the tournament and was undefeated leading up to the semis. It was therefore the odds-on favourite on home ice in the brand-new Khodynka Arena in Moscow, packed with 12,000 enthusiastic fans. Evgeni Malkin gave his team the lead after just nine minutes, but no Russian scored another goal although they outshot the Finns. Alexander Ovechkin couldn’t find the net, and neither could Alexei Morozov or Ilya Kovalchuk. The latter lost the puck after a failed shot, and the disc went to Jukka-Pekka Laamanen, then Niko Kapanen, and then finally to Jukka Hentunen, who tied the game up while shorthanded.
The Russians pleased their fans with their exciting play and made them hold their breath with dozens of chances in front of Lehtonen. As the possibility of a penalty shootout approached, the arena was suddenly shocked into silence. As valiant as the lion on his jersey, Mikko Koivu put the puck past Russia netminder Alexander Eremenko as he fell in front of the crease. Suomi was partying and the red-clad home team was on the verge of tears. Russia had just suffered its first defeat at the 2007 IIHF World Championship.
This squad failed to fill the skates of the old Soviet national team, which had never lost a World Championship game in Moscow, and was the last team to celebrate gold on home ice back in 1986 in the capital city. The Russian crowd had to watch Canada win the final instead. Only by winning gold in Quebec City, in the country of Russia’s traditional archrivals, can Vyacheslav Bykov’s men make that failure nothing but a distant memory.
2008 Russian players who also participated in 2007: Alexander Eremenko (injured), Denis Grebeshkov, Konstantin Korneyev, Andrei Markov, Ilya Nikulin, Vitali Proshkin, Ilya Kovalchuk (suspended for the semi-finals), Alexei Morozov, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Radulov, Danis Zaripov, Sergei Zinoviev.
2008 Finnish players who also participated in 2007: Ville Koistinen, Sean Bergenheim, Niko Kapanen, Mikko Koivu, Ville Peltonen, Mika Pyorala, Tuomo Ruutu.
Like Russia, Canada also went undefeated into the semis versus Sweden. The Maple Leaf-wearing team won 4-1. Never did Canada give the defending champs from 2006 a chance to win the game. After a so-so start, Mike Cammalleri used Canada’s second power play to open the scoring after 11 minutes. Soon after the next faceoff, Jonathan Toews made it 2-0. Sweden was trying to come back into the game but before the first period ended, Eric Staal’s 3-0 goal doomed Tre Kronor’s hopes. Johan Davidsson’s shot, off the skates of Canadian defender Shea Weber, made it 3-1 halfway through the game but the Swedes would get no closer. Canada controlled the game and Rick Nash scored another goal.
As the clock ticked down, the Swedes had to accept they were heading to the bronze medal game, which they lost to Russia. Canada played a similar style of game versus Finland in its 4-2 gold medal victory. And now, Team Canada wants to repeat last year’s success – on home ice.
2008 Canadian players who also participated in 2007: Cam Ward, Daniel Hamhuis, Jason Chimera, Shane Doan, Jamal Mayers, Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews.
2008 Swedish players who also participated in 2007: Magnus Johansson, Kenny Jonsson, Anton Stralman, Nicklas Backstrom, Patric Hornqvist, Tony Martensson, Fredrik Warg, Rickard Wallin.