With two minutes left until the final siren the Canadian fans, who heavily outnumbered the Russian contingent in the Buffalo arena, began to head for the exits, preferring not to witness the gold medals being handed to their victorious opponents. And yet at the end of the second period the followers of the Maple Leaves still seemed like the happiest supporters on the planet.
And no wonder! Indeed, Valery Bragin’s team were trailing 0-3 and, it has to be said, deservedly so. For 40 minutes almost nothing our team tried came off, especially in offense. But for some reason everyone had forgotten one simple but important fact: this time we sent over a Russian team which does not just play for all 60 minutes, rather it batters the opponent until the very last second.
That is how it was against the Finns in the quarter-final, and against the Swedes in the semi-final, but the Canadians chose not to learn any lessons, and so found themselves hammered in the third period by an incredible 5-0.
It would be unrealistic to try to describe all the goals and attacking incidents in such a game, but it is worth noting the deciding factors behind this triumph.
Firstly, Team Russia was stronger mentally. Even when the scoreboard showed 0-3, with the players emerging onto the ice for the third period, there was not even a hint of nerves. All the guys were focused, and they all understood that they could put at least something right. Few probably thought they would turn things around so magnificently, but neither did any of them believe they could be kept off the scoreboard.
Secondly – the assured guidance of Valery Bragin. All through this tournament he has been the very epitome of the master coach. When the team looked far from impressive in the early rounds, he conceded that there were problems. But he made it clear that they were surmountable, and anyway, “Guys, this is hockey. What do you expect?” was his favorite post-game phrase.
Not once did he subject any player to individual criticism, nor did he make enemies of those players who had performed below par in any game. Instead, he gave the youngsters full support, and they repaid him with their exploits in the third period.
The third factor was a well-balanced roster. Of course, we have our stars in Team Russia, but Bragin could use any weapon in his arsenal whenever the need arose, ably demonstrated by, for example, Artemy Panarin of Vityaz, or Nikita Dvurechensky of Dynamo Moscow. And Dmitry Shikin of SKA, not considered Russia’s number one, but with him between the pipes the team reached the final. He was replaced during the decisive game, not for letting anybody down, but for tactical reasons.
Possibly the list could go on, but that can come later. For now, all that is left is to rejoice in a stunning victory, so soon after New Year. Russian hockey, it seems, has a new generation of star players.
Before all was lost for the Canadians they called a time-out, and the eye was drawn to their coaches shouting and screaming at the players. It removed any doubt that all was not well in the Maple Leaf camp. And the remainder of the game confirmed it. In contrast, Bragin spent that thirty second pause patting his players on the shoulders and speaking to them softly. Maybe he was ensuring his players had noticed that the opposition had collapsed and it was time to kill them off. That is just what our guys did.
The Swedish team, without hanging around for any thanks, left a note on the door of the changing rooms: “You’re the better team, Congratulations on your victory!”
No-one could deny that Russia’s team deserved their triumph, for showing the kind of character which brings success in tournaments such as these.
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru