FIRST. The Swedes have long since packed up their golden medals and left Alberta along with the all the rest of the worldly juniors who’ve also headed home unburdened by any gold whatever. For fans across Canada, it was the semi-final loss to the Russians that soured the start of the year, killing our dreams of a home-ice championship not to mention dreams of revenge for last year’s shocking loss. It left us feeling … not … so … all … that … terrible after all. It’s true, isn’t it? Last year at this point the country was reeling after the Russians came back in the third period in Buffalo with a flurry of goals to snatch our gold away and leave us bruised and befuddled and doubting our national gumption. This time, though we may have lost, we did it like heroes (which we love), with all kinds of fight (which is what Ken Dryden was writing about in his latest call-to-arms in The Globe and Mail), knowing that if we’d been granted just a few more minutes, we would have pulled it out. Which we’re okay with, apparently. It didn’t hurt that the Russians won so poorly — all that sliding around on the ice to celebrate goals, the falling down and play-acting to try to draw penalties. If that’s how you’re going to play it, Russia, then that’s as good as a win for us, the way we keep score.
SECOND. After the semi-final, there was a headline in the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta that neatly summed up at least 40 years of rivalry between the two nations: “Russia and Canada Have Left Each Other’s Noses.”
Though maybe not quite. Over at Moscow’s Sport Express last week, they got hold of Russian coach Valeri Bragin as soon as he’d touched down at the airport. Judging by the imperfect automatic browser translation of the paper’s interview, his nose is still pretty full of Canada. Bragin had praise for the Swedes … up to a point. He admired their development program, the unity of their tactical focus. Their best players don’t rush to leave for North American rinks, he was saying, which helps them. In Alberta, they were rested, they were lucky. Coming home (the two teams having shared a flight) — how come so quiet? “It’s strange somehow.”
Enough about Swedes, though. What Bragin really wanted to talk about was Canada and Canadians and how their comeback from 6-1 down had nothing really to do with their own genius, they just accepted the gifts the Russians offered them. The Russian boys lost concentration, that was all. Oh, and the referees malfunctioned. I think that’s what he was saying. Here’s what my browser came up with:
With the score 6-1 referees just stopped working properly.
The cleanest bullet to Kuznetsov — silence. Canadians
stopped to remove, even for dirty beats and provocation.
After the match I was hurt to look at the guys. Sitting
on the ice with lumps, bruises. Well done, that suffered
all this mess.
The coverage next day was all about Canada. That was another thing. If anybody showed the Russian goals on TV, Bragin didn’t see them. “Not surprisingly, the question of refereeing no-one raised.”
It was Canada’s fault, too, that the Russians lost in the final. “The fact is that after the victory over Canada, the guys were devastated. Morally and physically.” The coach could see it, next day at practice, they were exhausted. In the final, the Swedes created no more than three chances to score before the overtime in which, sadly, the Russians made a mistake. If only it had been Canada in the gold-medal game, that would have been better. “Then the finale would have been quite different.”
Throughout their time in Alberta, according to Bragin, the Russians had the strong sense that everything was being done to prevent them from prospering. A grand conspiracy! The referees were in on it, apparently, and the press (of course) and also whoever changed the time of the Russians’ quarter-final against the Czechs from three in the afternoon to seven in the evening — obviously they were doing their best to wear out the winner before their meeting with Canada next day. The Russians also smelled a Canadian rat in their playoff accommodations, which were obviously arranged to keep them cold and far from practice ice. At least I think that’s the kernel of Bragin’s complaint. He added — laughing — that maybe when the Canadians come to next year’s edition of the tournament in the Russian city of Ufa, they’ll be put up two-and-a-half hours away in the village of Neftekamsk, where they can practice on the rink in the park.
THIRD. A post last week (Sincèrement Désolé, January 4) about Montreal’s Ken Reardon having gone to jail, briefly, in 1949 after he whacked a Chicago fan on the head with his stick mentioned a famous photo. It’s this one: