Valeri Kharlamov! Vladislav Tretiak! Sergei Makarov! Viktor Tikhonov! ! Boris Mikhailov! Vladimir Putin! Viacheslav Fetisov - can you hear me, Viacheslav Fetisov! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!'
Three days ago (or four? they are all blurring together) Canada had played two good but unconvincing games. They were then handed a humbling loss by a gritty but lucky American squad which knocked one of the greatest goalies of all-time out of the tournament. The Canadian team struggled to score goals when needed and was unable to find the timely save that would help keep them in the ascendancy.
Facing Germany 24 hours earlier was not the way the story was written but for those of us that had expected to see two random teams at Canada Hockey Place it was a lucky break. After 20 minutes of toiling we were treated to a game that served as a warm-up for Wednesday the entire country from the players to the arena staff to the fans. As my friends and I grabbed some food before heading to the Molson Brewery's private bar (yes, friendship has its benefits) our cashier asked us what we thought the score would be: "6-1!" was my reply but one of our group quickly corrected me: "No, don't be greedy, 5-1". Four hours later our joking boasts looked prescient.
I am loathe to say that you had to be at the game to understand the atmosphere in the arena when the Russians skated out onto the ice but I am not sure that the microphones could do it justice. Tuesday night, "We Want Russia" rang out through the arena as the crowd bayed for fresh meat at the end of an 8-2 thrashing of Germany. In the build up to tonight's game we brought back an old staple as "Nyet Nyet Soviet, Da Da Canada!" made a return in honour of yesterday's Leaf of the Day. When the Russians hit the ice "Welcome To The Jungle" blared and the crowd roared seemingly intent on ensuring that Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk and company knew that the mob demanded nothing less than victory. And boy did Canada deliver.
Much has been made of the number of graduates from the 2005 World Juniors are now on Team Canada. That squad faced Ovechkin in the final and beat him into tearful submission. While he's much harder to dominate physically he'll no doubt once again be shedding tears at the way his team was torn asunder by a relentless foe. Ryan Getzlaf started things off by tapping in a great Dan Boyle feed before Boyle added the second himself. Before the crowd had even begun to come down from the high of an early 2-0 lead in a must-win game Rick Nash added a third as the crowd hit cloud nine and the volume rocketed past deafening. The Russians pulled one back which was just enough to remind one that the game was far from over. However, Canada returned fire with three more as if to let the Russians know that any attempt at deviating from the story would be severely punished.
In a game like this it's hard to say who played the best simply because every player was clearly playing near the peak of their abilities within their role. Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, and Mike Richards not only shut down Ovechkin (chants of "O---vie", "Ovie-rated", and "Where's Ovechkin?" made the rounds) but they added goals, Brendan Morrow and Patrice Bergeron gave the team spirited play in limited minutes, the entire defence corps not only spurred the offence but they shut down what was viewed as an overwhelmingly powerful group of forwards.
Next up is Slovakia and in an interesting nod to 2002 when Canada last won gold the Swede's have once again been upset by an unfancied European team while the Americans await on the other side of the bracket. Canadian fans and players are taking things one game at a time so for now the focus is on Slovakia and breaking down Jaroslav Halak and stopping Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik. Based on tonight's performance, the Slovaks will have their hands full.
Note: I'll add photos when I wake up. Too tired and loaded to do it now.