Team Russia arrived in Stockholm deep into Friday night, but already by early morning several of the squad for an early breakfast, and cheerfully went out to train. The medics, too, were in a happy mood, having no illnesses or injuries to treat, with Mikhail Biryukov’s frozen legs being the most serious concern. And the day before the game, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had announced that Ilya Ezhov, who shivered on the bench for the entire match against the Finns, would take Biryukov’s place in goal. “I think it would be harsh for any goaltender to miss two days’ play,” said the head coach.”

Later on Saturday evening it turned out that Biryukov will be playing in the third and final game. But now Russia needs not only to beat the Czech Republic in regulation time, but must also hope the Finns will do them a favor against the Swedes.

Russia’s performance was far from bad in the first period, especially the goaltender. Yezhov was equal to all of the 13 shots fired at his goal. Sadly, the skaters started having problems matching the speed of the Swedes, and Russia started picking up penalties at an alarming rate.

“Twenty minutes of penalties – that’s too much,” Bilyaletdinov admitted. “I have no complaints about the officials, but we backed off far too much. In some places we failed to keep pace with our opponents, in others we lost our positioning. I won’t blame the goalie.”

But Ilya Ezhov did question his own performance: “There can be no talk of being over-excited; I felt perfectly calm, but the second goal is obviously on my conscience. And what’s more, if your goalie allows four goals in a game, the team doesn’t get many chances to outscore the opposition and win.”

With the Swedes taking the lead just before the second interval, the problems really piled up for Russia in the final period. First there was the goal from long distance, for which Ezhov has accepted all the blame. Then Alexander Ryazantsev gave Russian fans a glimmer of hope when his own powerful strike flew past Viktor Fasth into the Swedish net, but the Traktor forward blotted his copybook with a schoolboy error five minutes before the end, giving away possession in his own zone and handing the Swedes their third goal. “Mistakes like that happen, there’s no escaping them” said Bilyaletdinov. “It is up to us to ensure we keep them to a minimum.”

Russia’ concentration seemed to evaporate after that third goal, and within a minute they had allowed a fourth. “Yes, we’ve lost two in a row to the Swedes, but I wouldn’t say the losses were similar,” said Sergei Shirokov. “Our opponents really impressed me, they played very fast. But now we have to sort out our own game and get ourselves ready for the game against the Czechs.”

Those Czechs, incidentally, suffered a 0-7 hammering at the hands of the Finns, and they will be desperate to try and regain at least some pride in front of their own fans.

Alexei Shevchenko, special to


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