Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Helsinki painted red, white and blue

It truly was Slavic power in Helsinki on Sunday, as Russia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic locked out the medal positions. The Russians overpowered the spirited Slovaks in the final by a score of 6:2, whilst the Czech Republic battled to hold on to their bronze medal thanks to a 3:2 victory over the hosts, Finland.

Thousands lined Bratislava's streets on Monday
Photo: Ziakoo.sk
Fans from all across Slovakia packed into town squares in almost every town in the country, but their heroes couldn't find a way to shut out the incredibly talented Russians. Whilst the tournament's leading scorer, Yevgeni Malkin, was kept off the scoresheet in the third period, visibly getting frustrated by his lack of opportunities, it was Russia's second line of Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Syomin and Pavel Datsyuk that did the damage. Syomin scored twice for Russia and was voted their man of the match for the final. Slovakia took the lead in the second minute of the game to the delight of the numerous travelling support, as skipper Zdeno Chára opened his account for the tournament with a ripper from the blueline, flying high into Semyon Varlamov's top corner. Russia started to rally back soon after, and a defensive mix-up allowed Alexander Ovechkin to burst into the Slovaks zone, and send a pass across the face of goal to his Washington Capitals team-mate, Alexander Syomin, who netted past the tournament's top netminder, Ján Laco.

The second period was where Russia really took the game away from the Slovaks, and sealed their goal medal.  The Russians scored three unanswered goals to give them one hand on the trophy after forty minutes. Goals from Alexander Perezhogin, Alexei Tereshchenko and Alexander Syomin gave the Russians a 4:1 lead at the second intermission, which despite their great comeback against Canada in the quarterfinals, looked a bridge too far for the hurting Slovaks. Pavel Datsyuk scored four minutes into the third period to take the game to 5:1, which saw head coach Vladimir Vujtek take the decision to pull Ján Laco, through no fault of the new Donbass Donetsk netminder at all. Peter Hamerlík took his place, and made eight saves. The Slovaks got a powerplay in the middle of the period, their first for two games, and they would find the net again, as Zdeno Chára crashed the net and managed to put the puck home after a good pass by Tomáš Surový. However, the Russians were not to be denied, and Slovakia could not muster enough offence to get back into the game. With two minutes left on the clock, Malkin put the cherry on top of what had been a perfect tournament for the Pittsburgh Penguins forward, as well as the Russian team. Malkin scored to take the score to 6:2, and meant that the Russians would go undefeated through the tournament, not even dropping a single point. Ilya Nikulin raised the IIHF trophy aloft, giving the Russians their first tournament victory since 2009.

Tomáš Kopecký points to the sky for Pal'o
Photo: Hokejportal.sk
Following the game, the Slovaks sportsmanship and spirit has been commended by all corners. The faces of youngsters Libor Hudáček and Tomáš Tatar were ones of sadness and disappointment, but for the veterans, who may not get many more chances to win medals, the overall emotion was pride. Pride that a small country from central Europe, who have been kept away for so long from tasting success, managed to pick up a silver medal which an unfancied team, and more pressure on securing their Olympic qualification. Zdeno Chára and Tomáš Kopecký swapped their jersies following the game for Pavol Demitra ones, once again showing how much of a galvanising force the memory of the late former captain has been to this team. Monday afternoon saw the team welcomed back to a heroes welcome in Bratislava, with fans lining the street to catch a glimpse of their team, with silver medals glistening in the May sun around their necks. Whilst questions will still be raised about the talent coming up through the ranks, these questions can take a back seat for the moment, whilst the current team enjoys their success in Helsinki.


The Czechs wanted more than bronze going into this tournament, but it wasn't to be for the Czechs. Following their semi final loss to Slovakia, they managed to retain enough spirit and desire in order to take the bronze medal away from the hosts, and bring back a piece of glory from a so-so tournament, although the place in the limelight appears to be for their eastern neighbours.

The Czechs celebrate their bronze
Photo: IIHF.com
The first period of their game saw the Czechs play probably their best hockey of the tournament, as they put the Finns to the sword, scoring three times in the opening frame. Both teams traded chances in the early going, with the game taking on a fast and furious pace, but the Czechs would open the scoring through Petr Průcha. The SKA St. Petersburg forward managed to get a piece of a Lukáš Krajíček point shot on the powerplay which deflected it away from Petri Vehanen and into the goal. However, despite their poor play, the Finns managed to equalise in the seventeenth minute, as Miko Pyorala scored a beautiful goal, beating Krajíček all ends up before firing the shot past Jakub Štěpánek. It only took 29 seconds for the Czechs to re-gain the lead though, as Jiří Novotny's willingness to get the puck on net saw it squeak between Vehanen's pad and the post. Just under two minutes later the score went to 3:1, this time the goal coming from Boston Bruins forward David Krejčí. The goal resulted as a result of some beautiful one touch passing between Krejčí and Aleš Hemský, luring Vehanen out of position before the Bruins forward tapped the puck into the empty goal.

Petr Nedvěd holds the bronze aloft
Photo: IIHF.com
There was little of note in the second period, as the game lulled following the frantic first period, but the third period saw the Czechs almost throw the bronze medal through their ill-discipline. With Jakub Nakladal in the box in the 49th minute, the Finns pulled a goal back through Jussi Jokinen, who split the defence with his blistering speed, before firing high into the top corner. The Czechs only mustered one shot on goal in the third period, compared to Finland's thirteen, but Štěpánek stood tall, and despite Finland's best attempts, the Czechs held on to grab their second bronze medal in succession, to the delight of tournament debutants Petr Nedvěd and Petr Fránek, separated by almost twenty years in age.

It remains to be seen whether or not Alois Hadamczik is the man to lead the Czechs back to the promised land after their 2010 gold medal, but there are plenty of positives that the Czechs can take from this tournament. With Lev Praha now officially in the KHL, prepare to see many of this Czech team lacing up for the new KHL side over the coming years.


  1. If I remember the game well, Malkin was kept off the score sheet UNTIL the third; he actually scored the last goal of the game at 58:02.

    Also, if you are spelling the Russian names the US way, it would be Semin rather than Syomin, while the accents in Czech/Slovak names would be skipped, too (like you did in the Finnish names and the tags section) ;)

    There is a bunch of other details that I was surprised to see in a native speaker's text, but I trust that things will improve with time - looking forward to your blog posts about HC Slovan! ;)

  2. Thanks very much for the comment!

    Yes, I do realise that Malkin scored very late in the game, but the game was already over by that point really. The point I was making was that the Slovaks did very well to keep Malkin off of the scoresheet until the game was all but lost.

    Well, when I write my blogs, I use the Slovak keyboard with the specification, so the accents on the Czech names are within easy reach. I was rushing to get this done as time is a bit short for me at the moment due to University exams, so I briefly skipped putting the accents on the Finnish names.

    I agree, this was far from my best work. I hope you find articles that I write in the future better!

    1. No prob, I tend to read loads of hockey-related sites and blogs. Anyway, being a native Slovak speaker, I still prefer names without accents :) After all, based on the intro by HC Slovan Bratislava page on Facebook, your posts are meant to attract readers who do not understand Slovak, so I guess names in their "international form" would be more recognizable for those...

      Good luck with your exams!