Tuesday, January 04, 2005


The USA or Russia? To Beat or not to Beat

Who would you rather see Canada beat in a hockey tournament: USA or Russia?

It’s a question I see a lot, and it’s not always easy to give an answer to it so quickly.

As the Canadians get set to take on the Russians at the 2005 World Junior Championships, I am pondering if it would be sweeter for the Canadians to beat the Russians or the Americans for the Gold Medal.

The Mysterious Russians – Our hated hockey rivals.

Dating back to the Summit Series of 1972 and the Cold War, the Russians have always had a mysterious ‘evil’ air surrounding them. The players were simply robotic drones, carrying out the instructions to their mechanical style of play. (Most) Canadians knew little about the players, and could barely even pronounce their strange (And sometimes girly) names. Their coaches, especially Viktor Tikhonov, were cruel and calculating. The Russians were a ruthless machine in comparison to the rag-tag, outgoing Canadian brat-packers who played the game hard, and partied harder.

Fast forward to today and there is still a mysterious air around the Russian team. It is very hard for anyone who doesn’t read/speak Russian to follow Russian hockey. Search engines don’t return results from Russian sites all too often, and Cyrillic writing takes ages for me to decipher. Apart from the Ovechkin’s and Malkin’s, it is hard for me and many others to really know a lot about Russian hockey or the players involved in the tournament. While we know what Sidney Crosby eats for breakfast, we know almost nothing about the Russian squad.

The ‘evil’ factor and cultural differences also stem to their internet fan base. From my years of experience on various chatrooms and message boards, Russian fans are often arrogant ‘assclowns’ that see Canada as the ‘Evil Empire’ and that we are all that is wrong with hockey. Speaking to Russian fans is like talking to a wall, only one that believes the Cold War is still on.

Heck, just look at the goofy Czech Jaromir Jagr. His goofy humour isn’t going over too well in Russia, where laughing at a joke gets you executed (unless you are drinking vodka, then it’s acceptable). The aloof and arrogant Russians make it easy for us to cheer against them.

As for the rivalry, the Russians haven’t been keeping their end of the bargain at the senior level in recent years. Still, Russia and Canada have generally been the 1-2 punch in International competition, and Russia still dominates at the junior levels. Canada has 2002-2003 Silver finishes to Russia to avenge, so there is that factor, too. When Canada and Russia, the top 2 hockey countries, meet in any tournament, it is always a true clash of the titans.

One other note: As robotic as the old Russian players were (Especially Alexander ‘Pokerface’ Mogilny), the new Russian players are almost swung entirely the other way. Celebrating empty net goals and taunting opposition players? That is the new Russia.

The USA – Our neighbours and real-life rivals.

Like Sweden to Finland and Czechia to Slovakia, the US and Canada share a border and a good hockey rivalry. The US and Canada haven’t really had a long history of great hockey battles, but there are a few recent matches that stick out:

1996: World Cup of Hockey – USA beats Canada in the Best-of-3 series as the traitor, Brett Hull, scores on an ‘illegal’ goal in front of the Canadian fans.
2002: Salt Lake City Olympics – Canada gets revenge by winning the Gold in front of the partisan American crowd.
2004: World Junior Championships – Canada takes a lead into the 3rd period, only to have Marc-Andre Fleury ‘give’ away the victory to the Americans.

Since the Americans won the last big battle between our countries, it’s only natural that it’s our turn for revenge. We won’t get that revenge right now, but it would be pretty sweet if we had the chance.

What is really different about the US/Canada rivalry is the fact that there are so many real-life factors involved. While Russia/Canada have cultural differences and some Cold-War history, the USA and Canada have much more to deal with in real life...the looming Trade War, the saturation of American Culture within Canada, the long line-ups at the border, Britney Spears, and so on.

When the US beats Canada in a hockey tournament, it is really a blow to collective ego that the US beats us at ‘our’ game. The US dominates in so many other sports (Baseball, American Football, Basketball, Olympic Sports) that Canadians want to ensure that we are better than the USA at ‘our’ own game.

Thus, anytime we play the US, it’s more of “Don’t Lose to the Yanks” mindset than “Beat the Yanks”.

As for the fanbase...many American hockey fans have a little ‘Canadian’ in them. After all, they like hockey :). Most American fans on hfboards.com, for example, are just thankful to even have the WJC games on TV (Although ESPN won’t show the final just b/c the Americans are not in it, which is another reason why we look down on the self-centered American media). The assclown/smart fan ratio is definitely smaller for the American fans than the Russian fans.

In the end, I’ll take the Russians as the team I’d want to Canada to beat...this year. After their cocky shenanigans against the USA, and the fact that Ovechkin/Malkin obviously have no respect for their opposition (and need a spanking), it was an easy choice to make.

Meanwhile, Slovakia ‘earned’ 7th place with a 3-2 win over the Swiss, and Finland beat the evil Swedes 4-3 in overtime (hooray!). Sweden finished 6th, and ahead of Slovakia, despite the fact they suck more ass than ‘Meet the Fockers’.

If the other Slovakian HF writer (Tomas Egry) doesn’t write a Slovak team review for HF, then look for one from me in the coming days.

To add to it might also be this view: I don't see any (or many) Americans or Canadians rooting for the Russians when they play the other team. After the other night, it's a safe bet most people in the US are rooting hard for Canada; and I'd think the other night most Canadians were rooting for the US against Russia. We may butt heads about many things, but usually come together against someone else. - vf
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