Russia advanced to a third straight World Championship final, but this time Vyacheslav Bykov’s team had to wait until the very last minute to clinch a 2-1 triumph over Germany.
Every player in the German team left the mixed zone to rapturous applause, not from the journalists but from the stadium workers. It was no more than the players deserved, having matched Russia’s “Dream Team” blow for blow up to the 59th minute. The Germans even took the lead, and only some superb play from Team Russia denied them what would have been a miraculous victory.
“We proved ourselves in battle against Russia,” Germany’s coach Uwe Krupp said with pride. “I can only pay tribute to my guys, they deserve nothing but praise. We lost to the strongest team in the tournament.”
Vyacheslav Bykov was also left with a high opinion of Russia’s opponents.
“Games like these can only make hockey more popular,” he said. “When a national team, one that doesn’t have a very strong selection of players, puts up a great fight against the favorites you really have to admire them. The Germans played with a lot of heart.”
Pavel Datsyuk, with a stunning game-winner, was the hero of the match.
“I was already thinking of shooting from the blue line,” he said of his goal - maybe joking, maybe not. “Did I see Malkin? Some kind of rocket flew past me on my right, but I didn’t see who it was.”
Germany goaltender Rob Zepp, recalling that second goal, admitted he had simply been deceived by the forward.
“To be honest, I was sure that from that distance he would pass and not shoot,” he explained. “He set himself to pass and then changed his mind.”
Vasily Koshechkin made 26 saves and the organizers named him Russia’s man of the match. It was known on the morning of the game that Vasily would be between the pipes for the semi final, but the Russia camp kept this a closely guarded secret.
“The final is tomorrow, and it would be harsh on Semyon Varlamov to play two games in as many days,” said Bykov. “But he will be on the ice for the big one. Koshechkin has also had some great games in this tournament, and when we had to make the decision to play him today we didn’t doubt it for a second.
Varlamov, meanwhile, joins Vitaly Atyushov and Ilya Kovalchuk in being named the best players of the tournament. The organizers spared the players the ordeal of a long award ceremony; merely calling them out, handing them their prize and shaking hands.
And so, for the third time in a row, Russia will play in the World Championship final. Standing between them and the world crown will be the Czech Republic, who finally put down the resistance of the Swedes after an epic battle.
“Do we have enough time to study the Czechs?” Bykov pondered the question. “I think so, yes. All our scouts were at their game. I watched the game myself, but not to the very end. We rate the Czechs very highly, and we’d like to congratulate them on reaching the final.”
Ilya Kovalchuk also had a few words to say about the forthcoming final.
“I hope we’ll play as if we were back at the Khodynka arena in Moscow,” he said, speaking of the support from Russia’s fans. “The Czechs have a very good team, and Jagr is a dangerous player. What’s more, they have guys playing in the NHL and the KHL. We have to take our preparations very seriously and make sure we’re ready for them. But if we play good hockey, I can’t see anyone stopping us.”
Alexei Shevchenko, Cologne