International Ice Hockey Federation

Russia plots revenge

Russia plots revenge

Ovechkin arrives in time for USA rematch

Published 16.05.2015 08:53 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Russia plots revenge
Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin celebrates a goal against the United States at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The latest round of this Trans-Atlantic rivalry is set for Prague on Saturday with a place in the World Championship final at stake.

When Russia and the USA met in the group stage, the youthful exuberance of the Americans proved too much for the star-studded Russian roster. A 4-2 win helped the Stars and Stripes to the Group B summit – and left their opponents thirsting for revenge.

The big team news for Russia is the arrival of Alexander Ovechkin. The Washington Capitals’ forward touched down in Prague on Friday morning after contacting head coach Oleg Znarok following his team’s NHL play-off exit.

After Russia downed Sweden 5-3 in Thursday’s quarter-final in Ostrava, Znarok expanded on the arrival of the latest weapon in a stellar offensive arsenal.

“We've got a pretty good idea which line Ovechkin will play on, but we're not telling,” the Russian supremo said. “If he hadn't called me himself I might have had some doubts about his fitness, but he phoned and said that he didn't need any medical checks, like a few people had said. He said he'd be on the first plane to Prague.”

The arrival of the ‘great eight’ has also excited members of the Russian roster. Viktor Tikhonov said: “It's great that Ovechkin is coming over. He would add power, goals and leadership to any team in the world. So we're all waiting for him impatiently.”

The man himself spoke briefly to journalists at Prague aiport, reported. "I had a good flight and I'm feeling great," he said. "I'm still waiting to find out whether I'll be involved in the team skate tonight."

Despite the buzz around Ovechkin, Team USA can draw some comfort from the events of 2013 in Helsinki when Russia’s talisman was, once again, a dramatic late arrival. On that occasion he touched down in Finland just before a Trans-Atlantic quarter-final but could not save his team from an 8-3 drubbing.

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And in Charlie Coyle the Americans can boast their own impact call-up. The Minnesota Wild forward might be light years away from Ovechkin in hockey’s star system but since arriving in the Czech Republic he’s picked up two vital goals for his team, including the game-winner in the 3-1 QF success against Switzerland.

Coyle admitted it could be tough adapting to World Championship hockey after jetting in from the NHL, but added that nobody on the U.S. roster was making excuses for him or anyone else during that acclimatisation process.

And he’s relishing the chance to take on the Russians after missing the teams’ first encounter. “It’s going to be a great game,” he said. “Both teams have got this far for a reason but now we need to focus on our game and get a better start than we did against Switzerland.

“Our mindset is all about playing our hockey for a full 60. If we do that then more often than not we'll come out on the winning team.”

Meanwhile young goalie Connor Hellebuyck has been hot for the USA throughout the competition. After six games the St. John’s Icecaps backstop sits proudly atop the goaltending charts with the best save percentage (94.41%) and the lowest goals against average in the competition (1.32). That puts him ahead of the great Finn Pekka Rinne, despite the latter’s modern-day shut-out record.

“You’ve got to give Connor credit,” said forward Dylan Larkin. “He’s been great all through the tournament. I think we are comfortable giving up a few shots from the outside because we know he’ll have the rebound.”

However, Hellebuyck missed the earlier game against Russia with Jack Campbell guarding the American net on that occasion. And whoever gets the nod on Saturday will need to be particularly alert to deal with Russia’s formidable power play – in eight games it has notched nine goals at a 37.50% conversion rate, comfortably the best in the championship. However, with a PK running at 92% the Americans have been solid when playing shorthanded.

Quelling that Russian offence – which now comes with an added Ovi factor – is likely to be key to the outcome of this game. If the USA cannot do that for the second time in the competition it will struggle to reach the final. For Russia the task is to play on the front foot, reduce the load on the six remaining fit D-men and focus on playing a complete 60-minute game – something the team has struggled to manage in earlier outings.


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