The bumper crowd came to the Gazprom Arena, built for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and home to football club Zenit. Thanks to the smaller hockey playing surface, the organizers were able to squeeze in more seats and boost the capacity past the 65,000 that the stadium can hold for football. The weekend’s hockey crowd was counted at 71,381, a new all-time record for the sport in Russia. The previous mark, variously cited as 50,000 or 55,000, was set back in 1957 at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship when the USSR took on Sweden at the then newly-built Lenin Stadium (now Luzhniki Stadium) in Moscow.
Sunday’s crowd was also the fifth-highest hockey attendance of all time and the second best in Europe. The 77,803 who saw Germany beat Team USA in Gelsenkirchen for the opening of the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship remains the continent’s biggest so far.
The game was the climax of the Channel One Cup and most of that bumper crowd went home happy after seeing Russia romp to a 5-0 victory. Despite a sluggish start – blamed not on nerves but a delayed overnight journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg – the host clicked into gear late in the first period when Mikhail Grigorenko fed his CSKA teammate Kirill Kaprizov of the opening goal. In the middle frame, three defencemen found the net as Russia took the lead out to 4-0. Grigorenko added a fifth late on to complete a convincing win and secure victory for Ilya Vorobyov’s team in its home stage of the Euro Hockey Tour. The result also puts Russia four points clear of Finland in the overall Eurotour table after two events.
But the arena – and the bumper crowd – was the big talking point of the weekend. Sergei Plotnikov, who will be back at the venue on Saturday for the KHL game between SKA and CSKA, admitted to a twinge of envy. “It was one of the best games I’ve had the chance to be a part of,” he said. “I’d love it if we had more games like this – the atmosphere was incredible and the fans enjoyed it.
“I’m maybe a bit jealous of our footballers, who get to play in front of crowds like this more often, but soon we will have a new arena with room for some serious crowds. And I think today’s game showed which is the number one sport in Russia: I can’t speak for everyone, but for me hockey has always been number one.”
Roman Rotenberg, vice-president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia, was also confident that hockey had underlined its status as Russia’s top sport. “This is really important,” he said at a press conference after the game. “We wanted to show just how many people would come and watch hockey here. It’s a good sign for the future and gives us something to build on. If we had a stadium that could hold 120,000, we could have beaten the world record in Michigan.”
Earlier in the competition, Sweden twice blew 2-0 leads. On Thursday it allowed Russia to rally in the third period and the host won in a shootout. Then on Saturday Tre Kronor dropped a 2-3 verdict against Finland. Finally, on Sunday, the World Champion got it right: down 0-2 against the Czechs, Sweden recovered to win 3-2 thanks to two goals from Emil Larsson and a winner from Mikael Lindqvist to take third place behind Russia and Finland. That left the Czech Republic at the foot of the table with only a shootout win over Finland to celebrate.
Not surprisingly, the individual accolades were dominated by Russian players. Grigorenko’s 6 (3+3) points made him the tournament’s top scorer, ahead of Nikita Gusev (0+5) and Vasili Tokranov (2+2). Larsson’s three goals for Sweden made him the most productive non-Russian player. Among the goalies, it was a good tournament for CSKA. Lars Johansson, the Swede who plays for the Moscow club, had the best GAA (1.92) and SVS% (93.75). His clubmate Ilya Sorokin was close behind with a GAA of 1.93 and a 90.7% save percentage.
Russia ‘B’ impresses in SwitzerlandWhile Russia’s first team was winning at home, the ‘Olimpiskaya Sbonaya’, Russia’s B team, returned triumphant from the Lucerne Cup in Switzerland. That means like during the November international break, Russian teams won the top two men’s tournaments again.
The Russians began with a 2-1 victory against Slovakia in the semi-final and followed that up with a 5-1 success against the host on Friday.
Young Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goalie Ilya Konovalov caught the eye in that final, making 31 saves as the Swiss topped the shot count but struggled to find the net. The teams traded early goals from Denis Alexeyev and Denis Hollenstein but Russia forged ahead late in the second period with goals from Vladimir Tkachyov and Artyom Zub. After a goalless middle session, Russia wrapped it up in the third when SKA St. Petersburg duo Alexei Kruchinin and Oleg Li found the net.
“It was a tough game, despite the final score,” said team captain Artyom Zemchyonok. “The Swiss played well and had plenty of chances. Konovalov was huge for us tonight. And we took our chances at the right time, especially that fourth goal at the start of the final session. After that we were able to calmly play out for the win.”
Switzerland reached the final by defeating Austria. The Slovaks then took third place with a 6-1 victory over Austria. The Austrians, however, came to the tournament with a weakened squad due to Red Bull Salzburg’s Champions Hockey League success.
Thoresen inspires NorwayPatrick Thoresen might be ranked among Norway’s veterans but the 35-year-old led his team to success in the MECA Hockey Games in Lorenskog. Thoresen, currently playing for Storhamar in the Norwegian championship, topped the tournament scoring with 6 (2+4) points at the four-team event.
Three of those points came in the decisive 4-3 win over France in the last game of the weekend. Thoresen picked up a goal and two helpers as the Norwegians recovered a 0-2 deficit to take a narrow verdict. France was left frustrated by the number of opportunities it allowed the host: Les Bleus scored three goals from just 14 shots, but Florian Hardy faced 48 at the other end.
Behind the top two, Belarus took third place ahead of Hungary thanks to an 8-1 victory against one of its promotion rivals in World Championship Division I Group A next April.
|Euro Hockey Tour - Channel One Cup|
|13 Dec.||Helsinki (FIN)||Finland||Czech Rep.||3-4 SO|
|13 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Sweden||Russia||2-3 SO|
|15 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Finland||Sweden||3-2|
|15 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Russia||Czech Rep.||7 2|
|16 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Czech Rep.||Sweden||2-3|
|16 Dec.||St. Petersburg (RUS)||Russia||Finland||5-0|
|Standings: 1. Russia 8, 2. Finland 4, 3. Sweden 4, 4. Czech Rep. 2.|
|Lucerne Cup in Switzerland|
|13 Dec.||Lucerne (SUI)||Russia B||Slovakia||2-1|
|13 Dec.||Lucerne (SUI)||Switzerland||Austria||3-1|
|14 Dec.||Lucerne (SUI)||Austria||Slovakia||1-6|
|14 Dec.||Lucerne (SUI)||Switzerland||Russia B||1-5|
|Standings: 1. Russia B 6, 2. Switzerland 3, 3. Slovakia 3, 4. Austria 0.|
|MECA Hockey Games|
|13 Dec.||Lorenskog (NOR)||France||Hungary||3-0|
|13 Dec.||Lorenskog (NOR)||Norway||Belarus||6-1|
|14 Dec.||Lorenskog (NOR)||France||Belarus||1-0|
|14 Dec.||Lorenskog (NOR)||Hungary||Norway||2-3|
|15 Dec.||Lorenskog (NOR)||Belarus||Hungary||8-1|
|15 Dec.||Lorenskog (NOR)||Norway||France||4-3|
|Standings: 1. Norway 9, 2. France 6, 3. Belarus 3, 4. Hungary 0.|