Meanwhile, in Breclav, Finland and Switzerland contested fifth place, although this was yet another game which bore little resemblance to a contest. The Finns were 3-0 ahead after only five minutes, and eventually inflicted a crushing 9-3 victory. Sebastian Aho, selected by Severstal in May’s KHL Draft, recorded a hat-trick to join Kaprizov on five goals for the tournament.
This game fully lived up to all expectations: as the Canadians began at maximum speed and kept their feet down on the throttle right until the very end.
“This is why I love this tournament and this age group,” said the delighted double Olympic champion and talent scout, Vladimir Lutchenko. “The games are always played with the same spirit; every period seems to fly by in five minutes, with a speed and a passion that you simply don’t get with the seniors. Nor will you see these youngsters lingering with the puck behind their own net, waiting an age while they decide what to do. Soccer coach Eduard Malofeyev, trying to produce the game in its purest form with Dinamo Minsk, coined the phrase, “whole-hearted football,” and this tournament more than any other gives us genuine, whole-hearted hockey.”
This North American derby served up a cocktail of earnest effort, high emotion, powerful hits and an abundance of goals. The Canadians have stood head and shoulders above the rest throughout this tournament, winning all three group games by a 5-1 score and without ever moving into top gear. To the Americans’ credit, they forced their neighbors from the Great White North to battle every second right from the opening face-off.
The other semi-final was a much closer affair, with the Czechs earning a hard-fought 4-3 victory over the Swedes, thus progressing a step further than in the previous year when they finished third. Judging by what we have seen over the past five days, second place may well be the best the hosts can hope for, but of course, nothing in this sport is certain. If we cast our minds back a little further, we should remember there was an exhibition game played in Breclav between the two teams who will contest the final. This was part of a pleasant tradition of giving the fans an opportunity of seeing both North American teams, so Canadians went on to Slovakia for the tournament proper while the Americans played an exhibition game vs. Slovakia in Piestany before crossing the border into the Czech lands for their games in the group stage.
The Canadians began that game in sluggish form, and the Czechs were ahead in the scoring for much of the match before the Canadians’ late rally gave them a 7-5 win. So there may be similar twists and turn on Saturday when they meet again here in Breclav. Earlier in the day, the United States and Sweden will play for third place in Piestany.
Oleg Vinokurov, Yury Kuzmin (photo), in Breclav/Piestany