Russian hockey players didn't fail
Football is the number one sport in Russia, but hockey is the national sport. Yes, it was invented by Canada, not us. According to one of the new versions, it wasn't even invented by colonizers from Europe, but by local residents, aborigines... However, this article is not about that.
Every failure of Russian team is hard to come around. It may have been even harder in the 1970s-80s, but still, it really hard. Although the word "hard" probably can't be used in the context of events of those years. Defeats of the USSR superteam were so rare that they became simplay shocking: how did it happen?! This shock was eased by absolute certainty that next year every mistake will be corrected. That's how it usually happened. Apart from two world championships in a row in the second half of the 1970s, when our friends from Czechoslovakia became the best.
Then the Union collapsed. Everything has changed. Including the training system and hockey players themselves. There were less opportunities to play against powerful teams at home, while our rivals, especially Scandinavian teams, became stronger and stronger. As a result of all these changes we saw frequent defeats. Dark times have come for our national team.
After winning the 1993 World Championship, Russia managed to win “gold” once again only 15 (!) years later. That success, achieved in Canada itself, marked the return of Russian hockey to the super elite.
Of course, there were always masters, outstanding hockey players in Russian team, even during its darkest days, right until its return to the former gloty. And what a return that was - after triumph in Quebec, Russia managed to climb to the highest level of the podium three more times and won less prestigious medals on many occasions.
There was an important transformation in the sports bureaucratic as well as fan environment. Russia started to view the World Championships as more of a casual event. Finally, people understood that no one “holds back” the national team, judges are not “unfair” during matches, and that there are conspiracies behind failures. Most importantly, people realized that the era of almost complete domination at the World Championships of the Russian (Soviet) national team has ended objective reasons and is now a thing of the past. In addition, now Russia can't always bring all of its strongest players - many of them are busy with the Stanley Cup. Competition has also become much better.
There's Canada, there's Czech Republic, there's Sweden, but not only the United States and Finland reached the elite level, but also Slovakia and Switzerland, and even Germany. France, Norway and Denmark are also able and willing to give it all against all opponents. There are only one or two simple matches in any given tournament.
Current World Championship, which ended in Slovakia, raised some expectations literally at the last moment. Quite unexpectedly, within one week, one after another, teams that, according to all forecasts and calculations, shouldn't have dropped out so early, dropped out of the Stanley Cup. To the delight of Russian fans, their backbone consisted of Russian players like Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov and many others.
It was a team full of superstars, and fans had only one question before the World Championship: what can prevent Russian team from winning the tournament, if even Canada brought just third or fourth-rate team? Who will stop Russia when Finland unpredictably lost some of its best players due to the Eastern Conference of the NHL? Maybe the Czech Republic? Yes, their team is not bad, but the strongest Czechs are still playing for “Boston”. That's why the United States was considered to be the main rival, gathering surprisingly strong team. There was also Sweden, which is always capable of defeating the best teams on a good day.
A strong hope, which slowly turned into confidence, stayed with the fans until the semi-finals. But one goal basically ended the match. Our hockey players couldn’t revenge a single goal. Things like that happen. It all just went wrong. If the semi-final consisted of several games, I believe that Finland wouldn't be able to get through. Our hockey players were in no way weaker, worse, or lost to their opponents. No, it's just a bad luck.
Russian team no longer has just two or three dangerous competitors, like it had before. Now it has twice as many. With this in mind, bronze medals that we got by beating the Czech Republic in the shoot-out should be regarded as success. It maybe not the best achievement, but it's still a success. Even though we did suddenly manage to gather almost all of the strongest Russian hockey players who went to Slovakia for gold medals.
Finland also beat Canada, and loosing to future champions is not that bad.