Russia’s failure to claim third place against the Czechs leaves them without a medal for the first time since the 2006. After the game, head coach Vyacheslav Bykov announced that he had no intention of leaving the post, saying he had brought the strongest possible roster to the tournament, but he was critical of his players.
This was one of the tournament’s most entertaining games, although it was the Czech supporters who will have taken most pleasure. They greeted the final siren by saluting their team’s bronze medal as if they had won the gold.
“It doesn’t surprise me; for us, any medal is a great result,” said CSKA defenseman Petr Caslava. “Yes, we didn’t manage to win the semi-final, but we showed everyone that that was just one unlucky game.”
Forward Jan Marek, now a Lokomotiv player, also found reasons for the elation. “It’s not often you beat Russia three times in a row, but we’ve doneit. We outplayed them in the last round of the Eurotour and now twice in this tournament.”
The Russian players, understandably, were downcast after the defeat, but they did not consider it to have been a major disaster. “We started playing more open hockey, and in some places we were unlucky,” attacker Ilya Kovalchuk gave his take on the game, “but we went out there with serious intent. Firstly, we were playing for medals. Secondly, we were up against long-standing rivals. And finally, we knew very well that we’d have many supporters behind us.”
That aside, the forward was in no mood to don sackcloth and ashes while giving his reflections on the tournament. “I’m not going to start blaming any of my comrades for the poor performances. We are a team. You can’t single out or criticize any individual. If we make mistakes, we make them together. And now the main thing for the players is to stick together and look inside ourselves for the reason behind the failure.”
Everyone was interested to hear Ilya’s view on the wider problems at this tournament. Indeed, never before had Russia’s national side been beaten five times in a world championship. “First of all we were very weak in power play,” Ilya admitted. “The coaches tried every permutation, changed our combinations, appealed to the players, but nothing came off for us. Even I don’t know what happened to us, especially since playing at uneven strength was always the ace up our sleeves.”
Vyacheslav Bykov congratulated his opponents on their victory and conceded that they had deserved to win, but he could tell the assembled journalists nothing about his future as coach of the national team. “Right now my fate is in the hands of the Federation’s executive committee,” he said. “I’d be happy to continue my work as head coach, but my wish alone is not enough.”
It was inevitable that the Russian coach would face questions about mistakes he had made in the course of this competition, but Bykov merely reiterated his view that he had called up the strongest squad possible for duty with the national team. “Who else could we have selected from Russia?” he threw the question back at the press. “There was no-one else. No youngsters, since we brought all the best players from the KHL. I would have liked to pick Sergei Mozyakin and Fedor Fedorov, but they were already weary by the time they played in the Gagarin Cup Final.”
Bykov also lamented the lack of youngsters in Russia of a good enough level to bring them into the national team. Even Vladimir Tarasenko, appearing in his first world championship, seemed inhibited at the start of the tournament. “If they keep me on as head coach, then something has to change,” he announced, “but I’ve been saying for a long time that we need to put things right.”
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru