As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as an easy game in the IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship. If you don’t believe me, take a look at what happened earlier Saturday night in Crimmitschau.
Team Russia had a 3-0 lead heading into the second period against host Germany. The Germans ended up scoring three second-period goals to tie the game. In the third, Russia scored to make it 4-3, but shortly after, the Germans tied it once again. Russia eventually won in a shootout, after killing off a 5-on-3 power play for Germany in the waning seconds of overtime. Marvin Cupper was solid in net for the Germans, but the shootout always seems to be a strong suit for the highly-skilled Russians.
While Germany is the host country, it is just one year removed from playing in the World U18 Championship Div I after being relegated from the top flight in 2009. Knowing that, one would think this Russian squad that rolled past Slovakia, 8-2, was going to be able to cruise against Germany. Despite superior skill, speed and size, Team Russia struggled against the home side.
In addition to a determined Team Germany, the Russians had to contend with one of the most raucus home crowds I’ve ever seen. It appeared the supporters were rallying Team Germany, almost willing them to play better. It’s no wonder that the Germans took over the second period when attacking the net closest to their loudest cheering section.
Tonight’s game had perhaps one of the most exciting atmospheres I’ve ever seen in hockey. I hadn’t been in a building that loud since the 2009 IIHF World Under-18s in Fargo, when the U.S. beat Canada, 2-1, in the semis.
Despite the 5-4 SO loss, the German crowd was so proud of its team that the players earned a curtain call. Despite heading to the locker room after Russia’s anthem played, the crowd stayed and cheered the local boys. It was great to see the German team come back out and acknowledge their fans and for the fans to shower the team with support. The way Team Germany played against a team with superior talent like Russia was almost inspiring. They just kept plugging away out there.
To get back to my point, you can’t ever take anything for granted in these IIHF World Championships, at any level really.. The best team on paper doesn’t always win. That’s a good lesson for Team USA to take out of tonight’s Russia-Germany clash.
Despite rolling through the Five Nations and having only lost twice to it’s own age group, this tournament is a whole new ballgame for Team USA.
This Russian outfit that the U.S. will play Sunday is not the same team it blew out in the Five Nations in February. So expect a bit of a dog fight Sunday. Especially now, since Russia may have gotten a bit of a wake-up call thanks to Team Germany.
The team that plays with confidence, as opposed to cockiness, on Sunday will have the edge.
It’s a must-win game for Russia if it has any hopes of earning the bye into the semis. Team USA can almost assure itself that bye with a regulation win. So not only is it a game against a rival, it’s a game with enormous implications.
I’ll have my full preview up tomorrow morning. Don’t forget, you can watch the USA-Russia tilt live on FASTHockey.com at 1:30 p.m. EDT Sunday.