Sports Hockey


Canada vs. Russia still holds magic for diehard hockey fans

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun


Saturday night.

Hockey Night in Canada.


On home soil.

In front of a raucous red-and-white clad capacity crowd at the Air Canada Centre and a national television audience watching at home from coast to coast.

Yes, we know there are cynics out there who feel the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is nothing more than a lucrative cash grab for the National Hockey League and the NHLPA. If you are in line with this way of thinking, you certainly are entitled to your opinion.

Having said that, if you are a hockey fan and can’t get cranked up for the on-ice theatre that is set to take place in downtown Toronto on Saturday when these two long-time foes clash in a one-game, winner-take-all semifinal, well, you don’t have a pulse.

Don’t take our word for it. Just ask Team Canada’s Corey Perry.

“I don’t think you could have a better script for it,” the veteran forward said on Friday, breaking into the type of pure unbridled grin you are more likely to see from a wide-eyed boy than a multi-millionaire athlete.

“It’s what everybody does on Saturday night in Canada — watch Hockey Night in Canada and get ready for the game.

“It’s going to be exciting.”

Perry has been through big games before. He hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and won Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. He’s been part of a Team Canada backbone that has won 13 consecutive games under coach Mike Babcock dating back to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. He also was named the recipient of the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2010-11.

Keeping that in mind, when a seasoned veteran who has won pretty much everything there is to win in the sport indicates that yes, the ice water in his veins is warming up to the grand stage that awaits at the ACC, you get a sense of what this looming moment means, even for the players.

“You can start to feel the atmosphere picking up a little bit around,” Perry said. “Us in the dressing room, we’re trying to stay calm but we know what’s at stake. We’ve just got to go out and play hockey.”

Maybe these Canada-Russia games don’t hold the same magic of the 1972 Summit Series or the 1984 and ’87 Canada Cups. But it’s not a mid-November Maple Leafs-Columbus Blue Jackets tilt, either. Far from it.

“I think there’s still a rivalry there,” Perry said of Canada-Russia. “It’s fun when you get to play a country that there’s been a lot of battles with in the past. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Here’s the thing: As dominant as Canada has been in this particular tournament in going 3-0 while outscoring the opposition 14-3, the air inside the ACC will be thick with pressure when Perry and Co. step on to the ice. Indeed, while the Russians are looking to win, Canada is expected to win. There’s a difference.

Yet, there is a quiet confidence among the Canadian players, a been-there-done-that attitude that permeates the dressing room. That’s what you get with a Sidney Crosby who has been victorious the past 22 times he has worn the Canadian jersey in games that count. And that’s what you get with a Jonathan Toews, who is 47-3 with Hockey Canada dating back to the 2006 world junior.

Even in Vancouver at the 2010 Games, with an entire country’s collective nerves fraying as it waited for overtime in the gold-medal game between Canada and the U.S. to start, the players inside the room embraced the challenge. That is what this team does.

“The air kind of fell out of the building,” Perry recalled. “But then we went in during the intermission and everyone just looked around and kind of did their own thing. It was the feeling that we still had a chance to win; we just had to score one goal. That’s no big deal.”

Then Crosby scored the Golden Goal. That was a big deal.

And, according to Babcock, so is the game Saturday.

“When Russia plays Canada, it’s a big deal,” Babcock said. “Only one of us gets to leave happy (Saturday) night.”

And make no mistake — this will be no ordinary Saturday night.


TORONTO -- Eight years later, Jonathan Toews still is haunted by the memory of Alex Ovechkin and Team Russia celebrating on Canadian soil.

The year was 2008, and the euphoric Russians had just poured onto the ice at the Colisee in Quebec City to pay tribute to Ilya Kovalchuk’s overtime goal that made them the winners of the world hockey championships over Toews and Team Canada.

Ovechkin hasn’t had much success against Canada in his illustrious career, but that certainly was one of the rare moments. And it’s one that Toews doesn’t want to see repeated when Ovechkin’s Russians take on Team Canada at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night in a highly anticipated semifinal at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

“Yeah, I remember the celebration,” Toews recalled Friday of Canada’s gut-wrenching 5-4 overtime loss. “That was not fun to watch. Especially on home ice. It would’ve been nice to win. It was just a couple unfortunate bounces.”

Canada found itself in dire straits when Rick Nash was penalized with a delay-of-game minor for shooting the puck over the glass.

“I think we were down two guys in overtime,” Toews said. “It was a tough penalty to kill off.

“That was a pretty good team. Lot of guys who went to the world championship, it was almost a great preview of what our Olympic team would look like (in 2010), so it’s tough to lose that one. But yeah, at the same time, it was a good learning experience.

“I think the guys that were a part of that team were definitely ready for the opportunity in Vancouver. We came out flying in that tournament. But yeah, you can’t win them all, I guess.”