International Ice Hockey Federation

Old foes with good memories

Old foes with good memories

Russia, U.S. won’t need extra motivation

Published 02.01.2015 09:56 GMT-5 | Author Martin Merk
Old foes with good memories
The quarter-final rematch between USA and Russia will be more than just a game for many followers. Photo: Francois Laplante / HHOF-IIHF Images
Regardless of which sport you’re discussing, there’s always a lot of history in a USA-Russia quarter-final, especially when the two sides are equally matched.

Admittedly, there weren’t as many books written about the U.S.-Russia hockey rivalry as about the one between Canada and Russia. But many ice battles between those nations were deliciously exploited by both sides during the Cold War era to promote their own ideology as superior, from the innumerable Soviet wins at the IIHF World Championships to America’s “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Olympics. Tempers have cooled since, but for many observers, this clash still seems like more than just a hockey game.

However, for today’s youth, events that happened before they were born can seem like rather distant history. And despite a recent resurgence of political tensions, today’s budding Russian and American hockey stars both have rather good memories of their opponents’ countries.

The United States won their last World Junior gold on Russian soil in 2013, where they enjoyed great hospitality from both the organizers and the fans in Ufa. And the last time Russia won World Junior gold was the last time the event was held in the U.S., in Buffalo in 2011, where 329,687 spectators revelled in the ambience.

Just like last year in Malmo, when Russia won the quarter-final 5-3, only one of these two powers will make it to the semis.

“It’ll be a fun game and a physical game. We have to be disciplined and play hard,” said Team USA forward Dylan Larkin.

The 18-year-old from the University of Michigan was in the shadow of Jack Eichel before the event when it comes to attention, but he’s become his team’s scoring leader with five goals and two assists in four games. And he’s visibly enjoyed his first World Junior experience in Montreal, the co-host of the event. Larkin said the Americans couldn’t have asked for a better city to play in.

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“It’s nice to contribute to the team like that,” Larkin said about his personal numbers before adding: “But Jack [Eichel] is contributing much to the team the way he’s leading and helping us.”

The Michigan native, who followed the Red Wings as a kid and was happy to be drafted 15th overall by Detroit last summer, has already had some experiences versus Russia. He knows it won’t be an easy game.

“We had a few games, a few Five Nations tournaments. Once they came back and beat us, but it was fun to play,” Larkin said. “Of course there’s a historical rivalry. It just shows how Russia is a real hockey country.”

The atmosphere in Russia’s dressing room is tenser. Their group record was rather mediocre. Finishing third, they were just one point away from the relegation round. Instead of winning their last game against the Czech Republic and earning a quarter-final clash with Slovakia, the Russians have to deal with the Americans now.

The Russians brought their A-game in an exciting clash with Sweden, but did sloppy work while losing points against the Czechs and Danes, nations that normally rank behind them in hockey.

Coach Valeri Bragin, who also led the 2011 team to gold, complained that his players seemed to relax when they saw little danger. He hopes that this psychological issue will evaporate with playoff hockey and the Americans looming next. “It doesn’t matter against whom you play. You just have to play well,” Bragin said after the last game.

If you listen to the Russian players, a lack of motivation or mental preparation won’t be an issue for them in the quarter-finals.

“Against the Americans we don’t need to be specially prepared – everybody will be hungry,” defenceman Dmitri Yudin told R-Sport.

Anatoli Golyshev agreed: “We went out unprepared against the Czechs. We have to blame ourselves. We chose the difficult path in the quarter-finals. But we are Russians. We never give up. We will play until the end to correct the situation. Nothing is lost yet.”

Vladislav Gavrikov put it in more martial terms: “On the 2nd January it will be a war for life and death. We have to be in our best shape.”

While the Americans recovered from their intense game against Canada with off-ice training and a tour through the Montreal Canadiens’ facilities on New Year’s Day, the Russians had a delayed arrival and hit the ice for a late afternoon practice. But better late than never. If Russia survives the quarter-finals, that may be its motto for the rest of the tournament.


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