Euro-based players stake their Olympic claimsIt was billed as the ‘Plan B’ try-outs. With the Olympics less than 50 days away, the Channel 1 Cup in Moscow was the last chance for European based players to stake their claims for a ticket to Beijing – each knowing that his chances of making the cut might depend on the NHL’s final decision about taking part in 2022.
As a result, Team Canada entered the competition for the first time since 2017. Then, as now, the idea was to run the rule over players who could step up in the absence of the NHL. Head coach Claude Julien selected a roster that drew heavily on the KHL, supplemented that cohort with a cast of extras from around Europe’s leading leagues and included 2016 Stanley Cup-winning forward Eric Fehr, who retired from the game at the end of last season but was tempted back to add a bit of know-how to the roster. The Canadians had mixed results – losing narrowly to Russia after suffering a slow start, defeating Sweden 3-1 then falling to a 4-1 defeat against Finland.
Head coach Julien was happy with the findings from his research mission in Moscow. “I really liked the tournament, both from the point of view of our performance, in which I saw a lot of positives, and from how everything was organized. It was a good experience for us.”
Finland grabs top spotThat win over Canada helped the Finns claim top spot – both in the Channel 1 Cup and the overall Eurotour standings. But the winning margin was complicated.
Over the course of the tournament, Russia compiled 10 points to Finland’s seven. However, the Russians played an extra game – the curtain-raiser against Canada on Dec. 15. As a result, Russia’s win over Sweden was discarded from the ranking. That made Sunday’s clash between Finland and the host nation into a winner-takes-all decider.
The curios continued. After 60 minutes, the teams were locked at 2-2. In overtime, though, the Russians tested a tactic successfully used by Sergei Fyodorov with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. Goalie Ivan Fedotov was called to the bench in favour of an extra skater; the gamble was that the Red Machine could retain possession and protect the empty net.
It didn’t pay off this time. Finland snatched possession and Sakari Manninen surged towards the empty net, only to be hauled down by Slava Voinov. Ordinarily, the foul would have resulted in a penalty shot, but with the empty net in play Manninen was credited with the winning goal. The Finns felt this was poetic justice after Voinov’s controversial goal late in the third period tied the game. There was nothing wrong with the defenceman’s shot, but Finnish observers were convinced that goalie Harri Sateri was impeded earlier in the play and head coach Jukka Jalonen was outspoken in his criticism of the officiating. “It was 100% interference,” the coach told the Iltalehti newspaper. “There’s nothing unclear and no reason why it shouldn’t be given. Even a blind man can see it.”
Russia tops Canada for the first time since 2017The opening game saw Russia edge Canada 4-3, with the visitor fighting back from 1-4 after 40 minutes but falling just short in the third. That was the first time Russia defeated its old rival since the 2017 Channel 1 Cup, when Oleg Znarok’s team enjoyed a 2-0 victory in its final tournament before PyeongChang.
This time, Russia ramped up the Olympic history, donning a uniform inspired by the 1956 Soviet jerseys from the country’s first Olympic gold in Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Russian win came on goals from Lokomotiv’s Yegor Korshkov and Alexander Yelesin, plus further tallies from Nikita Nesterov and Vadim Shipachyov. The latter two were part of the 2018 golden roster in Korea.
Vladislav Tretiak, head of the Russian Hockey Federation, talked up the impact of Russia’s success. “No matter what line-ups the teams put out, games [against Canada] always attract extra interest,” he told Championat. “Almost the entire country is talking about this win. Maybe we’ll see the same in the Olympic final.”
Coaches unsure of final rostersThroughout the competition, there was much debate about the prospects of the NHL taking part in Beijing. At present, North American-based players are poised to travel but the deadline for a final decision expires on Jan. 10. As such, every news bulletin is pored over for clues about the likely outcome.
Sweden’s head coach Johan Garpenlov admitted that he couldn’t make decisions until next month. “We read the same newspapers and watch the same news as you do,” he said after Sunday’s game against Czechia. “We can see how the Games are changing. None of that increases the likelihood of the NHL coming. But, on the other hand, the deadline has always been Jan. 10. Therefore I won’t be making any decisions before that date. Right now, I think it’s 50/50 [that the NHL will come].”
His opposite number, Filip Pesan, was slightly more pessimistic. “It’s hard to say what’s going on right now,” he added. “If you look at the latest news then I think it’s 60/40 that [the NHL] won’t be able to come. In any case, if the NHL can’t come then we need to look closely at our European players and find reinforcements there, even though there aren’t many options.”
Switzerland victorious in reduced tournamentCovid-19 concerns took their toll on a planned four-team tournament in Switzerland over the weekend. Russia B was the first to withdraw from the event in Visp then, after agreeing to step in, Norway also had to stay home following changes to travel regulations back home. That left a three-team contest between the hosts, Latvia and Slovakia.
The visiting teams contested the opening game, with Slovakia powering to a 6-2 victory. The next day saw Switzerland send Latvia to a second loss, this time with a 2-1 scoreline. Slovakia prepared for its deciding game by traveling high into the Alps and seeking inspiration from the soaring heights of the Matterhorn on its rest day. However, the challenge of beating Switzerland proved a summit too high to conquer: Switzerland took a 3-2 verdict thanks to two goals from Denis Hollenstein and a late winner from Killian Mottet.
France wins despite cancelled gameAnd there were more Covid concerns in Poland, where the scheduled game between France and Hungary had to be cancelled after a Hungarian player tested positive. That cost the French a chance to record a perfect three wins from three after defeating Poland and Ukraine earlier.
However, two games were sufficient to give Les Bleus top spot in the EIHC Christmas Cup in Bytom. The crucial game was the opener against Poland. The French jumped to a 3-0 lead on goals from Dylan Fabre and Pierrick Dube (2). The host hit back in the third period through Radoslaw Sawicki and Jakub Bukowski but could not find a tying goal and went down to a 3-2 loss.
Subsequently, the French defeated Ukraine 2-1 and Poland picked up wins against both the Hungarians and the Ukrainians. That left the two nations tied on six points, with France getting the nod on the head-to-head. Hungary’s overtime win over Ukraine was good for third place.
|Euro Hockey Tour - Channel One Cup in Russia|
|15 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Russia - Canada||4-3|
|16 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Sweden - Russia||0-1|
|16 Dec.||Prague (CZE)||Czechia - Finland||2-3 SO|
|17 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Canada - Sweden||3-1|
|18 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Finland - Canada||4-1|
|18 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Russia - Czechia||5-2|
|19 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Czechia - Sweden||2-3|
|19 Dec.||Moscow (RUS)||Russia - Finland||2-3 OT|
|Standings: 1. Russia 10 (from 4 games); 2. Finland 7; 3. Canada 3; 4. Sweden 3; 5. Czechia 1.|
|Standings EHT: 1. Finland 13; 2. Russia 13 (from 7 games); 3. Sweden 12; 4. Canada 3 (from 3 games); 5. Czechia 1. Teams have played 6 games unless indicated otherwise.|
|NaturEnergie Challenge in Switzerland|
|15 Dec.||Visp (SUI)||Slovakia - Latvia||6-2|
|16 Dec.||Visp (SUI)||Switzerland - Latvia||2-1|
|17 Dec.||Visp (SUI)||Switzerland - Slovakia||3-2|
|Standings: 1. Switzerland 6; 2. Slovakia 3; 3. Latvia 0.|
|EIHC Christmas Cup in Poland|
|16 Dec.||Bytom (POL)||Hungary - Ukraine||2-1 OT|
|16 Dec.||Bytom (POL)||Poland - France||2-3|
|17 Dec.||Bytom (POL)||France - Ukraine||2-1|
|17 Dec.||Bytom (POL)||Poland - Hungary||3-2|
|18 Dec.||Bytom (POL)||Hungary - France||cancelled|
|18 Dec.||Bytom (POL)||Poland - Ukraine||4-1|
|Standings: 1. France 6; 2. Poland 6; 3. Hungary 2; 4. Ukraine 1.|