May 9 showdown
May 9 showdown
Remembering Victory, hoping for new success
May 9, Victory Day for these two tcountries of the former USSR, is always a resonant date at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship wherever it is held. As fans back home in Russia and Belarus remember the triumphant conclusion of the war against Nazi Germany and the Soviet flag fluttering over the ruins of the Reichstag, they also look to their hockey teams to provide a new victory to mark the big occasion. This year, though, the two countries are going head-to-head in a clash between neighbours playing for local pride... and the leadership of Group B.
Fans of both countries tend to expect a sporting victory to commemorate the day. Russia raised the stakes early, back in April, when the team’s GM Andrei Safronov said that this year’s competition was about more than defending the title won in Minsk 12 months ago. “Of course we want to defend our title, but that’s not all,” he said at an open training session. “On the 70th anniversary of our victory in the Great Patriotic War we have no right to play badly.”
As the Russian national team arrived in the Czech Republic, there were more reminders of the momentous events of 1945. The first practice session in the CEZ Arena fell on April 30, the anniversary of Ostrava’s liberation from the Nazis – something not lost on Viktor Tikhonov. “We saw a report about it on the TV at breakfast this morning,” he said after that training session. “I’m sure that as a team we’ll want to celebrate that, and also celebrate Victory Day.”Continue reading
The team was due to mark the occasion by gathering on Saturday morning to lay wreaths at a monument near its hotel, commemorating the Soviet soldiers who fought here in 1945.
The Russians have always paid close attention to their country’s history, both within the hockey world and beyond. During last year’s World Championship in Minsk the team used an off-day to ride on tanks at a military museum that remembers the front line in the Soviets’ battle against the Nazis. In a similar spirit the team makes an annual pre-tournament pilgrimage to the grave of the great Valeri Kharlamov with Safronov saying that no country and no team could have a future if it didn’t have respect for its past.
The Belarusian camp is no less attentive to the history books. Head coach Dave Lewis recalled the team’s preparations. “Before we came to the Czech Republic, we went to Victory Square in Minsk and laid flowers in tribute,” he said. “Everyone from the top of the organization to the players and staff felt it was important to do this.
“On Saturday both teams will be focused on the game but also in our thoughts are the sacrifices made as we pay tribute on this 70th anniversary.”
Belarus forward Andrei Stas, who plays for Russia’s ‘Army Club’, CSKA Moscow, isn’t fazed by the opposition but agrees that the date adds extra determination to his team. “We’ll prepare for Russia like we would for any other team,” he said. “It’s also important for us to win on May 9, especially when it’s such a big anniversary of the great victory. We’ll get ready, we’ll battle hard, and we’ll see who come out on top.”
Before the tournament began most people would have assumed Russia would have the advantage going into this game. However, whether due to the weight of history or not, Russia has looked like a team under pressure in Ostrava while Belarus has breezed to the top of Group B thanks to a sensational win over the USA on Thursday.
“Maybe we’re the favourite for this one, and not Russia?” suggested forward Sergei Kostitsyn after that 5-2 triumph. “Even back at the start of the tournament I thought that we’d be on top of the group and on May 9 we’d be playing Russia for first place. It’s a big celebration for us as well as the Russians and we really want to get a win on the day.”
Belarus may be unheralded by many, but there is no fear going into a game against Russia even if the record books show that the team has only one win in 11 games in championship play. That 1-0 success came in St. Petersburg in 2000, while Russia has nine wins with one tie. But after beating the Americans for the first time ever, Belarus is ready to shrug off the formbook once again.
“We can take a lot of confidence from the games we’ve already played,” Kostitsyn added. “We’ve been solid at the back, we’ve not let teams get to our net and score on us.”
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