History in the air for Canada and Russia
World championship final matchup a first for longtime hockey rivals
QUEBEC — Shane Doan has a chance to be in this picture.
Several years ago, the Canadian captain purchased a signed photo of Paul Henderson celebrating the goal that won the 1972 Summit Series and it still hangs in his Phoenix home today.
Doan is probably the closest thing to a hockey historian on the Canadian team that will play Russia in Sunday's gold medal game at the IIHF World Hockey Championship (1 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
He truly appreciates the rivalry and all the great games the countries have played against one another over the years.
"It's one of those things that you grow up knowing all that," said Doan. "You always hear, 'the Russians, the Russians, the Russians.' As a Canadian, to get a chance to play against them in the gold medal game is pretty special."
This game will be special on several fronts.
Canada and Russia have never met in the final game of the world championship, and the hosts are looking to become the first to win on home soil since the Soviet Union did it in 1986. The last country to even play for a gold medal at home was Sweden in 1995 and they were beaten by rival Finland.
The Russians found out about it a year ago in Moscow when their skilled team was upset in the semifinal.
"There was pressure for us last year," said forward Alex Radulov.
The Canadians have done an excellent job of handling that pressure during this event and have yet to lose in eight games. The Russians are also undefeated.
With so many skilled players on both teams, it's a tantalizing matchup that even Russian coach Slava Bykov conceded is "the final that everybody was hoping for."
The IIHF is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary and Canada has a chance to end that century of competition with a 25th world championship gold. That's been the plan all along.
"Canada is hockey," said goaltender Cam Ward.
For the second straight year, he'll start the gold-medal game. The 24-year-old was twice cut from Canada's world junior team but has had a marvellous beginning to his pro career — he's 9-0 lifetime at the world championship and won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy with Carolina in 2006.
He and Pascal Leclaire have rotated starts at this event and ended up posting similar numbers. Still, Ward's experience makes him the natural fit for the big game.
"There's nothing bigger than playing in the Stanley Cup final — nothing," said Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock. "He's had that experience so he knows how to react."
Doan spent time after Saturday's practice talking about the greatest Canadian teams of all-time. He doesn't think this group rivals some of the Canada Cup squads of years gone by, but they'll probably end up being considered one of the best to represent Canada at this tournament.
The line of Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators and Rick Nash has dazzled. They've imposed their will on opponents throughout this tournament and have scored 20 goals over the eight games.
The Russians have no special plan to stop them.
"They have to think about how to stop our lines, too," said Bykov.
The most dangerous of those has been dubbed the Capital Punishment line — Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov and Alex Semin all finished the season with the Washington Capitals and are a unit together here.
They're complimented by the likes of Radulov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Maxim Afinogenov and Alexei Morozov.
"You've got two teams that have a lot of good young dynamic players," said Hitchcock. "As much as we're excited, we're also curious to see how our good young players play versus their good young players.
"It'll be a challenge for both teams."
The Russians are trying to shake some history of their own.
They've only captured one world championship since the Iron Curtain fell and that victory was 15 years ago. They last reached the final in 2002 and were beaten by Slovakia.
Ovechkin was six years old when Russia won in 1993 and jokingly said he had little interest in hockey at that time. He doesn't put much stock in the history of hockey's most famous rivals.
"I think right now the history is done," said Ovechkin. "Thirty years (ago), we beat everybody. (For) 15 years, Canada already beat everybody.
"We don't want to look at history. We want to play this day."
That's a significantly different outlook than the one held by Canadians, who often link the victories of years past to those in the present.
Take the picture Doan bought for a "fair amount" as an example. The 1972 Series was played four years before he was even born, yet he feels a tie to that victory.
"It's something that as a Canadian you remember all that stuff," he said. "I remember hearing the stories and watching the videos."
This Canadian team has a chance to make some new memories.
A victory over Russia here wouldn't be anywhere near as significant as the victories in the Summit Series or 2002 Olympics, but it would be an accomplishment just the same.
Canada is already assured of regaining top spot in the world rankings after Finland captured the bronze medal with a 4-0 win over Sweden on Saturday. Even a second-place finish will vault Canada past the Swedes.
The only thing standing in the way of a fourth world championship gold in six years is a Russian team that hasn't been scored on in its last two games. Then again, the Russians haven't yet seen a team as good as this Canadian one.
"They haven't been challenged yet," said Hitchcock. "We'll see tomorrow."