IIHF World Championship round up - The Finals

Monday, 16th May 2005

Hockey correspondent Tambo gives his views on the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Group A Finals.

Fourteen days of hard hitting, non-compromising, entertaining hockey and we are down to the last 2 games.  Russia plays Sweden for the bronze medal and the widely predicted match up between Czech Republic and Canada takes place to decide the gold and silver medals.

Russia were the team that were able to raise themselves after the disappointment of a semi final defeat as they comfortably beat a Swedish side who just looked like they wanted to go home.
Russia jumped into a quick lead at 1.02 when Afinogenov belted a slapshot from the face off circle to beat Lundqvist high on the glove side. Russia was denied a second goal on 3.17 when Kovalev missed a penalty shot, awarded when Norstrom pulled him down on a breakaway. It did not take them long to make amends and on 3.58 Afinogenov scored his second, hitting his own rebound off Backman past Lundqvist. Sweden hit back less than a minute later on the power play. Ronnie Sundin (no relation to the great Mat Sundin) hit a slapshot from the point making it 2-1 at 8.11. Russia stretched the lead to 3-1 at 15.24 when Datsyuk passed to Kovalev to one time the puck past Lundqvist. Sweden hit back again at 19.13. Young Zetterberg drove to the net to push the puck through Sokolov’s legs towards the goal. Video review showed the puck just crossing the line. End of the period and a thrilling 3-2 scoreline.
Sweden replaced the very tired Lundqvist for the start of the second period and Johan Holmqvist saw his first action of the tournament. Russia certainly didn’t go easy on the new guy and after 21.33 increased their lead. Ovechkin drove down the right and deked Norstrom, leaving him dead in the water before wristing a beaut top shelf for 4-2. 4 minutes later and it was 5-2 as Yashin pounced on a turnover on the blue line, took a few strides and buried the puck top shelf. 25.57 and it was 6-2. Semin fed Afinogenov through right in front of the crease and although Holmqvist denied him his hat trick, Semin was on hand to put away the rebound. Sweden looked down and out but still managed to have a few chances as the eccentric Sokolov went walk about on at least 3 occasions. End of 2 and a score of 6-2 with the Swedes wishing it was the end of the third.
Only one goal in the third and that surprisingly went to the Swedes, when on 42.46 Henrik Sedin backhanded a rebound of Samuelsson’s shot past Sokolov. The Swedish fans tried to fire up their team after this but they literally had nothing left in the tank and the Russians played out time for a convincing win and the bronze medal. 
This was Russia’s first medal since 2002 and the first time since 2000 the Swedes go home without a gong.
And so to the final. A Czech Republic v Canada match up was widely predicted by most hockey pundits before the competition started, and it indeed was the Canadians, looking for their third gold in a row, up against the Czechs who were chasing their first gold since 2001.
The game started cautiously with both teams probing each other with neither wanting to make that all important first mistake. The Czech Republic changed the mood completely on 4.13 when Jaromir Jagr burst down the right wing and put the brakes on to wait for supporting play. He saw Rucinsky in place but as the pass reached him he was pulled down. On the delayed penalty, it was Prospal who hammered the loose puck home for 1-0. This opened the game up and there were numerous chances at both ends for the rest of the period. The teams traded penalties for the remainder of the stanza and despite good chances, particularly for Prospal and Hemsky the score remained the same. The teams skated 4 on 4 for the final minute of the period and Hlavac burst through on goal, only to be denied by a brilliant glove save from Martin Brodeur.  End of the period and the Czechs well worth their lead against a Canadian side that still was not firing on all cylinders.
The start of the second was much better for Canada, who was beginning to find their rhythm as both Thornton and Nash had good shots well saved by the impressive Vokoun. More chances fell to Canada as Heatley, Marleau and Doan were all denied by Vokoun. Brodeur had to be alert midway through the period when Dvorak found himself all alone in the slot and fired a snap shot, which Brodeur kicked away. Canada had the last chance of the period with a wild stramash outside the crease but failed to mark. They would, however start the third with almost a full 2 mins of power play as Zidlicky sits out a crosschecking minor. End of 2 and a tight 1-0 lead for the Czech Republic and the Canadians beginning to show why they are champions.
The Czechs comfortably saw off the penalty and got the all-important insurance goal at 23.12.
Jagr was again instrumental as he made a long cross ice pass to Martin Rucinsky who took one step inside and slapped the shot under Brodeur’s glove for 2-0. Canada seemed to come a bit unstuck after this goal and in typical North American fashion, resorted to the chippy, niggly game. The ref was well on top of it and at one time, Canada’s two main men, Thornton and Nash sat in the box together. Not the way to get back into the game. The Czechs played out time with tight defence, not allowing the Canadians any room on the blue line. Canada got a late power play on 58.25 and pulled Brodeur for the extra attacker. All hell broke loose in front of Vokoun, but the puck broke to Vasicek who sent the puck the length of the ice into the empty net off the post for 3-0.  The game ended in an unsavoury note when Ryan Smyth, the Canadian captain, instigated a melee in front of Vokoun and the ref sent 3 from each team to the box for roughing minors and Heatley picked up a 10-minute misconduct as well. Smyth can count himself lucky he only received 2 mins for his part in the proceedings. 
Czech Republic played out the remaining 12 seconds to record a great victory and Canada suffered their first shut out in the championships since 1987.
A thoroughly deserved win for Czech Republic, who have been the outstanding team of the tournament. Not always impressing offensively, overall they had the quality to prevail. Jaromir Jagr and Jiri Slegr now join an elite band of only 15 men who now have a full set of the most prestigious medals. Gold in the World Championships, gold in the Olympics and a Stanley Cup ring. Had things been different, it would have been Martin Brodeur who would have had that honour.
In the awards ceremony after the game IIHF named Joe Thornton of Canada as MVP. He had an outstanding tournament with six goals and 10 assists. Best goalie deservedly went to Tomas Vokoun of the Czech Republic, best defenseman to Wade Redden of Canada and best forward to Alexei Kovalev of Russia.
The worlds media-voted all-star team was
Vokoun  Czech Republic in goal
Defensemen Niklas Kronvall of Sweden and Marek Zidlicky of Czech Republic
Forwards  Joe Thornton and Rick Nash of Canada and Jaromir Jagr of Czech Republic.
A great 15 days of hockey with deservedly a new champion in the Czech Republic. Their goalie Vokoun was outstanding all tournament. The Thornton, Nash, Gagne line for Canada was a joy to watch. Pity it didn’t fire so well in the final, but that was down more to the Czech’s excellent game plan. For me Germany was the big disappointment, finding themselves relegated to Division 1 for next year.
Ok that’s it for my hockey season, hope you enjoyed my slant on the Championships as much as I have enjoyed writing it for you.  On to Latvia in May next year with a possible trip at the end of April to Amiens to support GB in their quest to join the big boys.  Oh! And with a bit of luck, a local team called Phoenix to watch next season. Good luck to Mr Morris on this one!

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