January 4, 2012

WJC - Russia vs Canada - One for the Ages

When the puck drops between Canada and Russia you just never know what will happen. At Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta on Tuesday night another magnificent chapter was written between these two hockey-loving nations and intense rivals. In the World Junior Hockey Championship semi-finals the Russians dominated the Canadians 6-1 into the third period until the Canucks mounted a furious comeback attempt to cut the lead to 6-5 with just under five minutes remaining to send the sold-out, red-clad partisan crowd into a frenzy. 

The fifth goal lead to a netminder change and with less than a minute to go Ryan Strome hit the post and Russia hung on for the victory despite being outshot in the game 56-24. They will face Sweden in the Gold Medal game while Canada will play Finland for the Bronze. 

Washington Capitals prospect and Russian captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov scored a hat trick and 2012 NHL Draft projected number one pick Nail Yakupov had four assists. 

Even though these are the junior teams, the epic nature of the game still adds to the storied rivalry between the two nations. It seems only appropriate that this dramatic match took place only a day after Versus relaunched its brand as NBC Sports Network by airing the documentary "Cold War on Ice: Summit Series '72" celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia. Of course that series was all the more dramatic because it took place at the height of the Cold War and political tensions added to the heated action on the ice.

Ten years ago I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto with my father and we were treated to the 1972 Summit Series 30th Anniversary festivities. At a press conference we got to see Phil and Tony Esposito and other Team Canada legends speak about the dramatic series. That moment really crystallized for me how much hockey means to these two countries. In Canada they say hockey is religion and the mystical bond between a nation and a sport is really seen at the National Cathedral in Toronto, otherwise known as the Hockey Hall of Fame's Great Hall, where the domed ceiling features stained glass windows reminiscent of old European churches and Canadians file past the Holy Grail -- Lord Stanley's Cup. Even in French the building at the corner of Front and Yonge Streets has religious connotations, as it is called Temple de la renommée du hockey.

For the citizens of Russia and Canada tonight the almost miracle comeback (another religious reference) was another glorious chapter in this storied rivalry. For the rest of us it was simply one of the most entertaining games of the year. And it builds anticipation for the next time Russia and Canada battle on the ice.

-- Josh Marks

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