Under the open sky

10 February 2012, 10:36

Russia made a winning start to the third stage of the Eurotour with a 2-0 victory over Finland in the open air at Helsinki's Olympic Stadium.

On the morning of the game, there was still some doubt over whether it would be played at the outdoor venue, since the harsh cold snap showed no sign of abating. The rules stated that the game could be moved to an indoor arena if the temperature dipped below -20˚C. The mercury, however, stayed hovering around the -15 mark, and with three hours to go the decision was made to go ahead as planned, under the wide open sky.

The weather did, it seems, take its toll on the attendance. In Helsinki it was announced they had already sold 29,000 tickets and expected the total to climb to 34,000, but in the end a little over 25,000 turned up to watch.

All the same, it was far from being the most comfortable two hours out in the open, and even though hot drinks were on sale in and around the stadium, it is no surprise a few local fans decided not to risk any frostbite. Earlier in the week a Finnish championship game was played outdoors in Helsinki, but despite some intrigue late in the game the spectators began pouring out through the stadium exits after just two periods.

It was still morning when news arrived that Maxim Rybin had to leave the Russian camp and head for home due to family reasons, leaving Russia’s coaches with a shortage of reserves. One result of this was that everyone who traveled, apart from second goaltender Ilya Yezhov, got at least some playing time. Team doctor Valery Konov admitted that the SKA goalie had it worst of all.

“We covered him in blankets, but the awful thing here was that the fan heaters for our bench were not working, unlike at the open-air game on Red Square, and this gave us a few problems,” said the veteran medic, adding that most of the players felt frozen after the first period, but then got used to the conditions.

The hockey, understandably, was neither the fastest nor the most entertaining. Stanislav Chistov opened the scoring, putting away a pass from Nikolai Zherdev. The Atlant man found himself in possession thanks to Chistov’s Traktor team mate Evgeny Kuznetsov, who showed admirable persistence battling away behind the opposing goal to create something out of nothing.

Credit for the second goal goes to Kuznetsov alone. Picking up the puck way back in the neutral zone, Evgeny resembled more a downhill skier as he embarked on a dazzling solo run, gliding around and past every opponent in his way, including the bemused goalie.

“I’ve scored more beautiful goals than that in my career,” said the forward after the game, “but scoring is what really matters – it doesn’t really matter how you do it. Here, I was just lucky. I got past one, two, and it all just went my way.”

It is the third time in the current Eurotour that Russia has conquered the reigning world champions.

“We prepare for every opponent, and prepare very intensely,” said Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. “I wouldn’t say the Finns gave a weak performance. It’s just that our guys played with a lot of discipline, to get the result. Exactly the way I asked them.”

Alexei Shevchenko in Helsinki, special to

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