Team Russia. The home team. One of the favorites. One of the feared. Big expectations for a team who did well last year and is hosting the tournament for the first time in 12 years, not to mention having one of the most skilled teams. I will be your tour guide over the next week, covering the proud Russians in their attempt to destroy democracy win a national title.
As someone who rarely watches games played in Europe, I have a few quick comments before I start my coverage:
The bigger ice surface (compared to North America) makes the game much quicker and, paired with the youth in this tournament, makes the game appear incredibly frantic.
I find it really strange that they have cheerleaders. First of all, it’s cold, put some clothes on, and it just doesn’t feel natural having scantily clad women dancing in the stands individually, most of whom look like they are 15. It’s awkward, and I’d feel awkward sitting there watching the game with some random girl waving her pompoms and being all dancing-like while I’m trying to watch some hockey.
Does Eastern Europe actually have its own music, or do they just take Western music and remix it into weird techno?
Alright, here are some actual observations on Russia and the game:
Russia is a very quick, strong, and skilled team with just enough stupidity that it reminds one of Team Iceland from the Mighty Ducks. They had three quality chances in the first minute, and dominated the game for the first 12 minutes. Utilizing the open ice, they made effective passes to pin Slovakia down in their own end, who, when they finally got the puck, just carried it to center and threw the puck in deep and went for a change. Russia has incredible offensive talent, especially off the rush, as they utilize their speed and quick, accurate passing to create great chances.
But once Slovakia realized how sloppy Russia was in their own end and finally started controlling the puck, the game turned around. Russia has some team defense issues, not able to cover players effectively, and struggling with breakout passes. Let me take you through Slovakia’s first goal (in the second period) that pretty much sums up Russia’s play in their own end:
After cleanly winning the faceoff in front of their net, Artyom Sergeyev is left alone to the side of his net after Slovakia retreats to the neutral zone. He holds the puck for a few seconds and throws a simple breakout pass up the middle, which, you guessed it, deflects off the open forward’s stick and is turned over the Slovakians. They eventually get the puck in deep into Russian territory and battle for the puck for a few seconds. Russia clears to center, and the Slovakians dump it in. The Russian goalie leaves the puck for defenseman Andrei Mironov behind the net, who, instead of making a quick decision and throwing it to his open partner or just slapping it up the boards, decides to pin the puck against the boards like a rookie playing NHL13 compulsively mashing the Y button out of fear. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, if he didn’t immediately lose the puck to the Slovakian forechecker. Alright, we’ve still got a chance to defend our net, right? Nope. Apparently the forwards made a change, leaving two Slovakian forwards to the one remaining Russian defender. Pass across the net, pass to the other forward, Russians are scrambling all over the place (they scramble, like egg), back to the original forchecker, Russians don’t know who they should cover, and then come in the Russian cavalry, just in time to dejectedly come into the frame as the Slovakians put the puck home.
Overall, the game was pretty even throughout, despite Russia clearly being more skilled. It feels like the game should have been pretty decisive in their favor, and if not for Russia’s goalie, Andrei Vasilevski, the game could have been favorable for Slovakia. Too many stupid decisions in their own end, sloppy breakout passes, and just overall boneheaded decisions. Did I mention Russia’s stupidity?
Up 2-1 with two minutes left? Better crosscheck someone in the mouth, especially if that person doesn’t have the puck and in fact never touched it, to draw the double minor. So Slovakia scores and ties it up with 30 seconds left, but can’t convert on the second half of the double minor, which includes 1:30 of 4 on 3 during OT. Some pretty good chances in OT, but nobody scores until Andrei Sigaryov on Russia ninjas his way through a few defenders and gets tripped up on a semi-breakaway and draws the elusive 14-second powerplay (that being the time remaining in overtime). So 14 seconds left, and surely the game is going to a shootout until Albert Yarullin BLASTS ONE HOME.
The host team ended up winning their first game, but they’ve got a lot of work to do before they realize their full potential and win the tournament. Their next game is Friday at 9:00 EST against the good ol’ democracy bearing, beer drinking US of A.
PS, if you think my political nonsense is bad, check out the headline of IIHF’s website titled “McCarthy remembers Russia.” Oh boy does he.