Russia waved goodbye to any chance of finishing the World Championship second group stage in first place, which would have secured them a weaker opponent in the quarter-final. The Czechs hold on to top spot by virtue of this win, during which they came in for some heavy punishment from Evgeny Artyukhin, and the big man was the subject of some lively debate after the game.

The Czechs’ head coach, Alois Hadamczik was the first to appear at the press conference, and realizing he was to be seated next to his Russian counterpart, he moved Vyacheslav Bykov’s nameplate away from the adjacent seat, explaining: “It’s just more comfortable for me having the interpreter to my left.”

Vyacheslav Bykov’s answer was to pick up the plate which bore his name, autograph it, and present it to his opposite number.

It soon became clear there were other reasons for Hadamczik distancing himself from Bykov. He launched into a tirade against Evgeny Artyukhin, accusing him of dirty play, claiming that his only talent was fighting, and that there was no place for such a player in this tournament. When questioned later, however, he backtracked a little, limiting his complaint to what he felt were illegal challenges but conceding that Artyukhin is a good player.

“No need to turn everything into a circus,” was Bykov’s reaction, “at least none of us went to the opposition’s bench to remonstrate with their players and coaches. No, we were quite prepared to introduce Artyukhin to Hadamczik so they could resolve matters between themselves.”

Bykov praised Evgeny, and regarding the game said he was only dissatisfied with the closing stages of the first period: “We didn’t play very well in defense, gave our opponents a head start, and with a team like that you can’t afford to hand them an advantage. But I was pleased with my team’s play in the second and third periods.”

Konstantin Barulin played his first full game for the national side, and he looked impressive on his debut. “It was very humid in the arena,” he said. “I admit I didn’t expect that. As for the game, I was just unlucky on the penalty shot: my skate got caught in a crack on the ice and I couldn’t get to the puck.”

In contrast, Alexander Ovechkin’s first outing in the competition was not one of his most impressive, but the coach was not inclined to read too much into his performance. “Sasha is still getting acclimatized,” Bykov noted, “and today he played as well as he could. I think he’ll improve with time. I’m not about to change the combinations in our lines, and Artyukhin will keep his place in the same trio. For some reason everyone considers this line to be one of pure strength, but they too can create chances.”

When questioned about the team’s aggressive play, the coach was a little ambiguous: “Three of the dismissals were unnecessary, but the rest were just part of the game. As for the Czechs, I can say the following: we all remember how easily and how often they hit the deck in Cologne. Jaromir Jagr gave the impression he’d been severely crippled, and then played on as if nothing had happened.”

Jagr himself was in the mixed zone, wearing a face that was gloomier than a rain cloud: “It seems to me that Artyukhin must be disqualified. It was obvious that he deliberately set out to hit our guys. What’s more, he always plays like that.”

The referees, incidentally, did deem it necessary to approach the Russian bench. “They told us that so far Evgeny had stayed within the rules, but such strong challenges were unnecessary,” Bykov recalled.

In their next game Russia’s finest will face Finland, and then wait for news of the identity of their quarter-final opponents. The head coach shared his thoughts: “Of course, Norway would be better than Canada but in essence it really makes no difference, especially since I don’t think Canada will win the group.”

Alexei Shevchenko, special to

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