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Like a shot of gold: Russia holds on to trounce Canada

January 4, 2012

Can’t stop a Russian train.

World Junior Championship viewers were treated to an epic matchup last night that didn’t disappoint last night. In Calgary, one of the most highly touted Canadian teams to date took on the defending champions in the semifinal.

Canada outshot Russia 56-24. The fans were overwhelmingly cheering for Canada. But the victory was all Russian. In every bit of edgework by Yakupov, in every dangle from Kuznetsov and in the otherworldly pad-saves from Andrei Vasilevski, victory was red, blue and white. They shot up 6-1, like a freight train. No destination, just a sense that plowing through the Canadian defense was a birthright, nearly unavoidable. The Russian offense is like fireworks: it’s happened before your eyes, and next thing you know, it’s gone. In all reality, they were perhaps better suited to scoring more goals in the third period than trying to protect their lead; it didn’t suit them. Then again, the Canadians were getting pucks to the net from all manner of angles. Some were soft, some were unstoppable. The Canadians deserve all the credit in the world for a four goal comeback attempt. But the grit and determination the Canadians scored in the final 15 minutes of the third period in their efforts to come back were wholly Canadian, wholly laudable. But the truth is that they were simply not ready in the first 40 minutes.

The Russians play a chaotic and yet elegant style of hockey. The Canadians, very strict, very positional, very poised. This difference of styles explains in part just why this game was so entertaining. The Russians skating the puck up, not forechecking terribly hard; the Canadians passing first, physical all the while. Teams with highly defined styles of play prove to be the most fascinating when placed head-to-head. Chaos won out over pragmatism. High risk/high reward won out last night.

The officiating isn’t worth discussing, but it sure was awfully strange. Embellishment and high-sticking galore from both sides. I ‘d call it a wash, with enough non-calls and bad calls to even it all out. Huberdeau slamming his stick for a 10-minute misconduct? Novel. Connolly essentially punching a player in the chest? Interesting.

Hats off to Bob McKenzie for saying in his post-game remarks that “there are more countries than Canada. There are more countries that can play this game well.” Sure, there will be all kinds of coverage in the coming days out of the Great White North that involves soul-searching and deep questions of a crisis of Canadian hockey. But games like this are precisely what keep it all interesting.

What a game. Sweden versus Russia should be an artful and thrilling match.

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