Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Canada V. Russia

18 years ago, Sidney Crosby was probably just getting washed up for another day at nursery school – it was the eve of the Canada:Russia (CIS) Olympic Hockey final in Albertville, France.

At the other end of the scale, Sergei Fedorov was parlaying an excellent rookie campaign into an 86-point season with a resurgent Wings team. Alex Kovalev, important figure last time around, he was on the ice in France. Fresh off a WJC gold medal in the same year, the young phenom played all 8 games and chipped in a goal as Russia beat Lindros' (and Juneau's) Canada.

The last time they faced each other on Olympic ice, the scene was Torino, Italy. Kovalev sealed Canada's fate this time, with a PP marker in a tight 2-0 victory in the QF.

Experience in one-game knockouts key

You just cannot buy this experience, and no amount of Ovechkins, Duncan Keiths, or Mike Richards can change that.

As we will another Crosby:Ovechkin showdown for the TV producers, it may well be that this game turns on what some of the more seasoned veterans do. Niedermayer and Pronger have been facing Kovalev and Fedorov since before lockout was a dirty word.

Many seem to be quick to dismiss the old guard after a result went the wrong way for Canada – as Brodeur, Pronger and Niedermayer must make way for Luongo, Doughty and Keith in the minds of the columnists. But I wonder. Calling on those gold medal memories, whether they be from 1992 or 2002, may just be the deciding factor in the end.

Fedorov is one of the granfathers of one-game knockout experience in this tournament. This is his 3rd Olympics, he has played for Russia more than 10 times (and may have played more often if called upon). While he's not the game-changer he once was, Fedorov may just have a trick or two left up his sleeve for tonight's spectacle. Canada would be silly to forget that. They'd do well to remember their own grisled vets.

Canada and Russia beware

A final lesson is this. In 2006, the round robin set the stage for a Canada:Russia early showdown for supremacy. In 2006, it was met with the same hoopla and hype. Neither Canadians, nor Russians need reminding that in 2006 it was Sweden and Finland who contested the Gold and neither team wore any medals on the planes home.

While this game is interesting and exciting, it is no more than a playoff clincher, an April game. There are no spoils other than a further game from here, there are no guarantees. And as the two great rivals prepare to battle to the death, I can tell you there are a few Finns, Swedes and Americans thinking just the same.

Here are some trips down memory lane for those who don't remember last time:

BBC: Russia see off champions Canada

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