After failing to medal in the Sochi Olympics, Alex Ovechkin and the rest of Team Russia wanted redemption in the 2014 World Championship. In front of President Putin at Minsk Arena, Russia beat Finland 5-2 to win gold. They went undefeated, winning 10 consecutive games in the tournament.
If you’ve ever wanted to see the Russian machine play with actual Russian machines, today is a good day for you. On Thursday, Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Russian National Team did just that, visiting an armored fort near Minsk, which is a part of the Stalin Line.
The Stalin Line.
The line, created in the 1920s to protect the USSR against attacks from the west, consists of concrete bunkers and gun emplacements. It’s basically a less elaborate Maginot Line, which may mean something to approximately 2% of you.
On their off day, Ovechkin and his comrades visited a remaining part of the line, close to where the World Championships are taking place in Belarus. Just like that shirtless soccer game a few years ago, team officials probably hoped the event would bring the team closer together.
Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t. For sure, it became a giant photo op and no one took it seriously.
Back at the Olympics, Team Russia got eliminated from medal contention by Finland. It was sad. Even the mascot, the Sochi Bear, which literally had a smile fixed on its face, couldn’t keep it together.
Russia got revenge on Sunday, though some of the names and faces were changed. Buoyed by an Alex Ovechkin power-play goal (his second of the tournament), Russia beat Finland 4-2, ending a year-long losing streak to the Finns. It was Ovechkin’s second goal and his third point of the tournament.
Russia is now 2-0 in the World Championship and has outscored its opponents 9-2. Without Teemu Selanne, who is busy or something, Finland is 0-2 and may miss out on even qualifying for the playoffs.
Hershey Bear and Team Germany goalie Philipp Grubauer shut out Team Russia in a pre-World Championship exhibition game. The Germans won 3-0.
Both Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov sat out (Ovechkin’s absence was described as part of an “acclimatization and adaptation” period by the team’s spokesman), while Orlov’s omission from the line-up seemed to be a part of the rotation process that comes from having 30 players (27 skaters) on the roster. Evgeny Kuznetsov played on the team’s second line.
According to SovSport, Dynamo Moscow head coach Oleg Znarok has been named the new head coach of Team Russia. The news comes as no surprise; Znarok was pretty much the only candidate discussed in recent months. Ex-coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov failed to medal in Sochi, losing to Finland in the quarterfinals. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored just one goal in the tournament, examplifying an overall disappointing performance by Team Russia’s stars.
Znarok has been a household name in Russian hockey since 2010, when his HC MVD Balashikha went on a Cinderella run to win the Western Conference only to lose in the finals to Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s Ak Bars Kazan. After a successful season by the Moscow suburb team, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is related to both clubs, merged Dynamo Moscow and HC MVD into UHC Dynamo Moscow (where “U” stands for “United”). HC MVD’s coaching staff and top players moved to the storied Russian franchise. Success followed soon thereafter: Dynamo won the 2012 Gagarin Cup, and then another one, in 2013, holding off Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Traktor.
Despite being a native of Ust-Katav (Chelyabinsk Region, Russia) and an ethnic Russian, Znarok’s dual Latvian-German citizenship makes him the de jure first-ever foreign coach in Team Russia history. His assistant, Harijs Vitolins, who will also step in as head coach for Dynamo, is an ethnic Latvian.
It started off so well. Ilya Kovalchuk scored early in the first period of Russia’s quarterfinals game against Finland, but Finland fought back (as good teams do), scoring twice later in the period, including a goal from septuagenarian Teemu Selanne. Finland added another goal in the second period. Russia couldn’t come back. They lost 3-1.
This is no ordinary loss. After getting blown out by Canada in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, this was supposed to be different. Russia was supposed to medal. They were supposed to win gold in front of their home fans.
Instead: sadness, disappointment, blame. Again.
We’ll be updating this post with images and quotes from the players as they come in.
Yesterday, after the United States beat Team Russia in the shootout 3-2, there was a handshake line — which let’s all agree is one of the best traditions in hockey. During the Sochi Olympics, opposing players have high-fived each other at the conclusion of every preliminary round game, an act normally reserved for elimination.
Because of this, we get to see what I’m going to ahead now and declare the second best Caps related photo of the Olympics (Nicky and Mojo biking together will always be first). Here, wonderfully captured by the IIHF’s Jeff Vinnick, John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin shake hands after the game. They look amused.
Alex Ovechkin scored a goal and an assist in his first game of the Sochi Olympics. Russia won handily, defeating Slovenia 5-2.
Despite the win and his own personal production, Ovechkin wasn’t satisfied with the game. Russia struggled in the second period and watched helplessly as Slovenia’s Žiga Jeglič scored twice. Those goals made the game a tight, one-goal affair heading into the third period.
The line on Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin goes a little like this: he must win gold or it’s all been a failure.
And yet all we’ve been hearing the last few days is how content Ovi is with the pressure and how excited he is to play. He finally put deed to word on Thursday, scoring on his very first shift of the tournament.