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Canada-Russia semifinal in World Cup of Hockey is a marquee event

Team Canada's Matt Duchene (9), Jonathan Toews (16) and Corey Perry (24) celebrate Toews' goal during the first period against Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey on Sept. 21.
(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

The reborn World Cup of Hockey has produced one semifinal matchup of traditional superpowers — Canada vs. Russia on Saturday — and another on Sunday pitting Sweden against Team Europe, which didn’t exist until a few weeks ago and appeared destined for a short lifespan after two ugly exhibition losses.

Such have been the joys of this event, in which a U.S. team that unfathomably favored grit over skill got its just rewards by exiting without a win. Meanwhile, the speedy kids on Team North America won praise for nearly making the knockout round — and Team Europe actually got there. The semifinal winners will play a best-of-three final starting Tuesday at Air Canada Centre.

First up are Canada and Russia, a rivalry burned into Canada’s consciousness by the 1972 Summit Series and dominated in recent years by those wearing the maple leaf. In winning Group A, Canada (3-0-0) outscored opponents, 14-3. Russia (2-1-0 and zero for eight on the power play) had a more difficult ride. All of Canada hoped for this: native son Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, a national TV spectacle featuring an unmatchably deep team that plays an up-tempo style and spends minimal time in its own end against a group capable of great individual skill, all bathed in historic overtones.

“I don’t think you could have a better script for it. It’s what everybody does on Saturday night in Canada,” said Canada and Ducks right wing Corey Perry. “It’s going to be exciting. We’re trying to stay calm, but we know what’s at stake.”

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This will be a pivotal moment for Russia, which failed to win an Olympic medal on home ice in Sochi or in 2010 at Vancouver.

“It’s huge. It’s a big battle. They have great players, we have great players. It will be interesting challenge for us and for them,” said Russia and Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. “I think the atmosphere is going to be fun.”

Team Europe (2-1-0) was outscored, 9-1, in the first four periods of its pre-tournament games but staged a stunning reversal sparked by pride and a simple, patient strategy. Look for that to continue against Sweden (2-0-1). “There’s no flash to it,” Kings and Europe center Anze Kopitar said. “We’re playing a boring style of hockey, but it’s turned out to be a pretty successful one.”

That’s no surprise to Europe’s players. “Every game we’ve gotten more connected,” Kings and Europe winger Marian Gaborik said. “I think our game is elevating and we’re going to take it to another level on Sunday.”

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