Canada’s Nash-ional pride
Canada’s Nash-ional pride
A look back at Worlds on Russian soil: 2007
The Russians had high hopes of ending a gold medal drought at this tournament, which, at the time, extended back to 1993. They had plenty of NHL firepower, including Alexander Ovechkin, Yevgeni Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk, full of vim and vigor in their early 20’s. They also iced a five-man unit of AK Bars Kazan stars from the Russian Superleague that would dominate the tournament: forwards Danis Zaripov, Sergei Zinoviev, and Alexei Morozov, plus defencemen Vitali Proshkin and Ilya Nikulin.
With top NHL blueliners Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar in the mix, the prospects of victory appeared bright for CSKA Moscow coach Slava Bykov in his debut behind the national team bench. It was the first time the Worlds had come to Moscow since 1986. That year, Bykov was part of the last team to win gold on home ice (until Sweden in 2013), along with the famous “Green Unit” of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, Slava Fetisov, and Alexei Kasatonov.
The 2007 World Championship saw fewer upsets than usual during group play, split between Moscow and Mytischi. Sweden, the Czech Republic, Canada, and Russia all posted perfect records during the preliminary round. The biggest upset in the (now-defunct) qualification round saw Germany earning a 2-0 win over the Czechs. Despite boasting NHL stars like Tomas Plekanec and Marek Zidlicky, the Czechs would wind up seventh under coach Alois Hadamczik, equalling their worst finish ever from 1994.
The Canadians had a slow start during the preliminary round, with narrow margins of victory over Germany (3-2), Norway (4-2), and Slovakia (5-4). However, the team assembled by Steve Yzerman in his debut as GM and coached by Andy Murray (already a two-time World Champion from 1997 and 2003) picked up its pace as the tournament progressed.
In Canada’s 6-3 win over the U.S. to close out the qualification round, Jay McClement set a new record for the fastest goal from the start of a game, scoring just eight seconds in. That mark would last for two years, as Belarus forward Sergei Demagin scored at 0:05 in a May 2, 2009 game against Finland.
Come the semi-finals, few expected the Finns to do well against host Russia. The Russians had blanked the Czechs 4-0 in a heated quarter-final affair that saw Malkin taunting the Czechs bench after he scored. Ovechkin’s weak performance was the lone area of concern: he’d finish this tournament with just one goal and two assists, and got a one-game suspension for a hit to the head of Switzerland’s Valentin Wirz. But otherwise, it looked like all systems go for Bykov’s boys, facing a Finnish team that needed a Jere Lehtinen shootout goal to get past the U.S. 5-4 in their quarter-final.
However, coach Erkka Westerlund came up with one of his patented defensive classics to shock the Russians. After Malkin and Jukka Hentunen exchanged first-period goals, the teams couldn’t score again in regulation time. Finnish goalie Kari Lehtonen shone as shots favored Russia 30-19. And at 5:40 of overtime, Mikko Koivu capitalized on a blunder by Russia’s netminder, Alexander Eremenko of AK Bars Kazan. Eremenko missed a pokecheck, enabling Koivu to put the puck in the gaping cage. That ended Russia’s unbeaten streak at the Worlds in Moscow, which dated back to 1957.
To their credit, the Russians regrouped for the bronze medal game, defeating Sweden 3-1 in front of a happy crowd at the Khodynka Arena. They did so without three injured stars: Morozov, Markov, and captain Petr Schlastlivy. But deservedly, attention shifted to the final between Finland and Canada, which had toppled Tre Kronor 4-1 in the semis.
This game turned out to be arguably Rick Nash’s most significant contribution to international hockey history. The 22-year-old power forward, then with the Columbus Blue Jackets, had previously led the 2005 Worlds with nine goals for Canada’s silver medal squad in Austria. He would go on to win Olympic gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014. But whereas Nash was a member of a great supporting cast in Vancouver and Sochi, here he would provide the most memorable image of the tournament.
Nash opened the scoring at 6:30 on the man advantage with a stick-side goal. Eric Staal added another power play goal at 13:48. Halfway through the game, Colby Armstrong made it 3-0, and Canada looked to be in full command. But the gritty Finns fought back in the third period on goals by Petri Kontiola and Antti Miettinen.
It was left to Nash to salt away the gold medal with 1:06 left. With Finnish blueliner Pekka Saravo draped all over his back, he powered to the net and put a backhander past Lehtonen while crashing to the ice. Nash was named tournament MVP. The goal was replayed endlessly in tournament highlights packages.
It was a true team effort for Murray’s crew. The little-heralded Matthew Lombardi -- then with the Calgary Flames and now with Switzerland's Geneve Servette -- led Canada in scoring with 12 points. Shane Doan and Dion Phaneuf were other key contributors. Future Olympic and Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Toews chipped in seven points in his first senior IIHF gold medal run -- the University of North Dakota star had won two World Junior titles, but hadn’t played in the NHL yet.
Canada wouldn’t win another gold medal until 2015, suffering heartbreaking losses to Bykov’s Russians on home ice in Quebec in 2008 and in Switzerland in 2009. Morozov finished as 2007’s top goal-scorer (eight), while Zinoviev led in assists (10) and Sweden Johan Davidsson’s was the top point-getter (14).
In 2007, Timka, a hockey-playing bear, was the official mascot of the IIHF World Championship. In 2016, Laika, named after the first dog in space in 1957, will be the mascot. Russian fans hope their team will soar to even greater heights this year than in 2007.
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