Monday, May 19, 2008

2008 IIHF World Championships Finals: Kovalchuk leads Russia to its first Gold medal in 15 years

What a finish! In one of most memorable games in the World Championships’ 100-year history, Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a power play 2:42 into overtime as Russia defeated host Canada 5-4 to capture its first IIHF World Championship title since 1993 before a ruckus crowd of 13,338 at the Pepsi Colisee in Quebec. With Canadian winger Rick Nash in the penalty box for delay of game for shooting the puck out of play over Russia’s bench, an unmarked “Kovy” waltzed in from the blue line to the top of the slot and ripped a wrist shot over the blocker of 2006 Vezina Trophy winner Cam Ward for the dramatic victory. (watch it here: The play developed on a nifty feed from the re-born Sergei Fedorov, who pulled up on the right wing just inside Canada’s blue line, circled, and found a shockingly wide open Kovalchuk entering the zone. Fedorov and Alexander Ovechkin drew the assists on Kovy’s “golden goal”.

Kovalchuk, who sat out Russia’s semifinal matchup against Sweden due to an automatic one-game suspension, also provided the heroics for Russia in regulation, as he tied the game 4-4 on a wrist shot with 5:14 remaining in the third period. The clutch goals were Kovalchuk’s first two of the tournament to go along with six assists.

Russia displayed great resolve in winning its first gold in fifteen years. After Alexander Semin staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead just 1:24 into the first period with his first of two goals on the night, Canada pulled ahead 3-1 after twenty minutes on two goals by Minnesota Wild defenseman Brent Burns, sandwiched around a Chris Kunitz tally. Burns’ second came on a 5 on 3 advantage, as he powered a one-timer past Evgeni Nabokov to give Canada a two-goal cushion entering the intermission. Russia, appearing a bit unsettled in its first championship game since 2002, took four penalties in the opening frame, including a Vatali Proshkin double-minor for high sticking, and as a result were out shot 15-5.

After regrouping during the first intermission and beginning the second period on its first power play, Semin put the visitors within one with his sixth goal of the tournament. The Washington Capitals rising star, the 13th overall pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, would end up leading all Russians in scoring with 13 points. Canada regained its two goal lead on Dany Heatley’s Championships leading twelfth goal. Heatley was named the MVP and top forward of the tournament after the game. The score remained 4-2 through 40 minutes of play, despite Russia out shooting Canada 12-8 in the second.

In the third period and overtime, Russia continued to dominate play. After shifts of sustained pressure in the Canadian zone, Alexander Tereshchenko finally broke through for the visitors, beating Ward five-hole from the slot to cut the home team’s lead in half. Then it was Kovalchuk’s time, and gold was Russia’s at last.

You can watch the Russian team's celebration as well as an interview with Ilya Kovalchuk's mother here -

Saturday, May 17, 2008

2008 IIHF World Championships Semifinals: Russia vs. Finland Recap

For the first time since 2002, Russia is one victory away from snapping its 15-year World Championship drought. With a dominating 4-0 defeat of Finland Friday afternoon at the 2008 IIHF World Championship semi-finals, along with Canada’s 5-4 victory over Sweden, Russia will face-off against its long time foe on Sunday at the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City at 1:00 p.m. to play for its first World Championship title since 1993. Through Russia’s first six periods of medal round play, it has outscored the opposition 10-0. But this Russian team, featuring a blend of NHL stars along with Russian Super League standouts, will not be satisfied to leave Quebec without a championship.

Contributing greatly to Russia’s likelihood of capturing gold is that Sergei Fedorov is playing like it's 1993. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer opened the scoring 13:41 into the first with his 5th goal and team-leading 10th point of the tournament. Fedorov has been united with Capitals teammates Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin on a line, all of whom have registered 10 points entering Sunday’s match.

The prolific Ak-Bars Kazan trio of Alexei Morozov, Danis Zaripov and Sergei Zinoviev generated Russia’s next two goals. Morozov and Zaripov, who ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in RSL scoring during the 2007-2008 campaign, each scored a goal, with Zinoviev notching assists on both. Zaripov beat Finland goalie Niklas Backstrom 3:44 into the 2nd period, and Morozov whipped Backstrom five-hole through a screen from the right-circle with just under 9 minutes to play in the third to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 lead. (watch it here: Morozov’s marker was his 5th of the tournament. Maxim Sushinsky, who was 5th in RSL scoring this past season, ensured the coveted Russia-Canada Final with an empty-netter with approximately two minutes remaining in the game.

Russia rides a very hot Evgeni Nabokov into the Final. The 2007-2008 Vezina Trophy finalist has stopped all 45 shots he has faced in the quarter and semi-finals, but will need to elevate his game to defeat Canada on Sunday. Canada’s attack is spearheaded by Dany Heatley, who leads the Championships with 11 goals and 18 points. However, boosting Russia’s prospects of returning home with gold is the return of Heatley’s former Atlanta Thrashers teammate, sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk served an automatic one-game suspension against Finland. A full complement of players gives Russia a tremendous opportunity to end its 15-year itch.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

2008 IIHF World Championships Quarterfinals: Russia vs. Switzerland Recap

Russia advanced to the semi-finals of the 2008 IIHF World Championships on Wednesday night with a 6-0 pounding of Switzerland, but still suffered a tremendous loss. As a result of being assessed his second game misconduct of the tournament, star winger Ilya Kovalchuk has been automatically suspended for Russia’s semi-final matchup against Finland Friday afternoon, per IIHF rules. Kovalchuk, known for his competitive play as well as his world-class offensive capabilities, all of which made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, was whistled for the misconduct after a hit on Switzerland’s Julien Vauclair. No. 71’s presence will be difficult to overcome for Russia against the tight-checking Finns, as Kovalchuk is a constant scoring threat of whom the opposition must always be aware and creates ample space for his teammates. Kovalchuk is currently tied for the team-lead with 6 assists.

The Russian attack struck early and often against the porous Swiss, scoring goals on three of their first four shots against Swiss netminder Martin Gerber. Maxim Afinogenov paced Russia with two goals in only 7:20 of ice time, while Konstantin Korneyev, Denis Grebeshkov, Danis Zaripov and Alexei Tereshchenko each registered two assists.

Gerber was yanked at the 6:50 mark of the second period after yielding five goals on the first fourteen shots he faced. He was replaced by Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, who fared far better, allowing only an Alexander Ovechkin goal at 18:07 of the second period. For Ovechkin, it was his team-leading sixth goal of the tournament. In the other crease, Evgeni Nabokov stopped all 22 shots he faced to record a shutout.

At 1:00 p.m on Friday, Russia faces off against scrappy Finland, which defeated the United States 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday on Sami Lepisto’s first goal of the Championships. Finland is led by Mikko Koivu and Teemu Selanne up front, and also boast the Finnish Elite League’s leading goal scorer among defensemen in Anssi Salmela. An already difficult matchup becomes an even larger task without Kovalchuk.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Some tidbits from the 2008 IIHF World Championships

A lot has been made and written about the fight at the end of Sunday's game between US forward David Backes and Finnish defenseman Anssi Salmela. Finland coach Doug Shedden, being brutally honest, had this to say about Salmela: "He needs a broken nose. He needs to get ugly. It is on the other side of his face." You can see the Backes-Salmela fight by going to As a result of the fight, both Backes and Salmela were automatically suspended one game each.
In addition, Salmela, who led SM-Liiga, Finland's elite league, in goals this season with 16, scored one of the stranger goals you'll ever see - Salmela has logged nearly 15 minutes a game for Finland thus far in the World Championships, as part of the team's second defense pairing.