A Rough Start
Russia played her opening game at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament in Canada earlier this afternoon, with Sweden the opposition. Oleg Znarok’s troops did not get the result they wanted; read on for a quick summary of the game and a few words on the tournament itself.
It was a nervous start for Team Russia — the Swedes controlled the play, if not to an egregious degree, through the first period, and Sergei Bobrovsky had to be sharp to keep the score at 0-0 after 20 minutes. But the second frame proved much like the first, with Sweden more or less on top of things, and they finally got the breakthrough when Gabriel Landeskog put them up 1-0 at about the halfway point. Just two minutes later, when Viktor Hedman scooted through to make it 2-0, the road back for Team Russia looked like a long one.
Credit to the Russian players, though — they made a strong effort, and began to impose themselves on the game as time went on, particularly in the third period. Swedish goalie Jacob Markström, starting unexpectedly in place of the under-the-weather Henrik Lundqvist, was called upon repeatedly, and was equal to the task for the first 59 minutes and 25 seconds.
Then, in the last half-minute or so, Russia nearly pulled off the miraculous comeback. First Alexander Ovechkin sifted the puck through traffic and past Markström to halve the deficit. Then, with only seven seconds on the clock, the Washington Capitals superstar had the puck in the net again… but the referees waved it off and the grounds that the puck had been gloved into the net, and the call stood after a video review. Ovechkin was not at all happy about it, but in all fairness the replay was at best inconclusive.
So, 2-1 to Sweden the final, the Russia faces a must-win game on Monday against Team North America (that will be a tough test — the young Can-Am team mauled the Finns, themselves a very good team, this evening to the tune of 4-1, in a game that was not actually that close). Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak could not contain his disappointment with the outcome, saying:
“Our team did not play its game today, it’s frustrating. I did not like the game very much, it was not our best performance. The coaching staff and Oleg Znarok must understand and say what the problem is.”
It’s hard in some ways to know exactly what to make of the World Cup of Hockey as it appears in 2016. On the downside, the tournament has something of a gimmicky feel to it, as an international tournament that includes two teams (the North Americans and Team Europe) that are not representing nations. We must also wonder a bit about the motives for holding this tournament; while the World Cup is a linear descendant of the old Canada Cup, which itself grew out of the Summit Series of the early 1970s, its current incarnation looks very much like an opportunistic NHL cash-grab, not to mention a blatant attempt to shoulder the IIHF and the Olympic Hockey movement out of the way.
On the other hand, best-on-best international hockey is always a good time, and the presence of Teams North America and Europe may serve to dial down some of the nationalism that all-too-often afflicts these events (then again, it may not). The tournament has already served up one very interesting result, when Team Europe downed the Americans by 3-0 on Saturday. It the World Cup comes to be a regularly-scheduled event (held presumably in the even-numbered years that are not Winter Olympics years), and is not simply used to try to bludgeon other international tournaments into irrelevance for the purposes of enriching the NHL, it could become a very attractive feature on the hockey calendar.