Over the years, Canada has developed many rivals on the International hockey stage. For example, there have been some recent battles with the United States at both the 1996 World Cup and the 2002 Olympic Hockey Final. Sweden and Canada also have a storied history with the most recent battle occurring at the 2009 IIHF semifinals with Canada once again being victorious. After the win against Sweden, Canada will now face Russia for the second year in a row at the final of the IIHF World Championships in Bern, Switzerland. In a hockey mad country like Canada, anything but winning gold is considered a failure. While Canada has continually achieved success against Russia in recent World Junior tournaments, the country is nonetheless trying to avenge a loss from only one year ago at the most recent World Championships.
The 2008 final of the World Championships proved to be an epic battle between Canada and Russia. In the end, it was Russia who prevailed thanks to an overtime winner by Ilya Kovalchuk. If you question the significance of this tournament to the players involved, the looks of sadness and despair on the faces of the Canadian players gave a real indication of how important that game in 2008 really was. On the contrary, the images of the Russian team leaping towards Kovalchuk after he scored the winner gave some input to how much the country really wanted this victory. The Russians had a lengthy celebration on the ice as the Canadian team just stood up and waited for the customary handshake to take place. What made the wounds even worse for Canada was that they had lost on their home soil in Quebec City. While the upcoming hockey final may not have the historical impact of battles like the 1972 Summit Series or the Canada Cup Final, the match will nonetheless provide a basis for discussion heading into the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Both nations will have no shortage of talent as many of the players in the championship game could also be playing for their respective countries next February. Names like Kovalchuk, Morosov and Radulov should be strong bets to play for the Russian team while there are a host of other players in the KHL who should also be participating at the Olympics. Much of the World Championship roster for Russia consists of players not playing in the NHL so many hockey fans will be exposed to some names in this final that they may initially not be familiar with. Canada on the other hand should also have some strong Olympic candidates on their own roster such as Dany Heatley, Shea Weber, Shane Doan, Jason Spezza and Martin St. Louis.
Fans in Canada will not remember this World Championship Final the same way they remember Paul Henderson scoring in 72 or Gretzky to Lemieux in 87. While the belief is that the World Championships have more significance to Russians, this tournament will nonetheless not be mistaken for an Olympics or any other tournament where you are able to see the top players from each nation play against one another. Take this tournament for what it is worth and not for what for what it is not. The final of the World Championships should be some great hockey that will likely be aided by a different in rink atmosphere full of people whistling when they disagree with a call and advertisers putting vehicles amidst the crowd. The ability to watch a game on International ice should also allow fans see some of the stars of the game skate more while playing on the larger ice surface.
For those of you who think there might not be any nastiness, well it is Canada Russia so I fully expect some hatred to be involved during the game. While many Canadian fans have made the trip to Switzerland to watch the tournament, there will likely be a bigger Russian contingent in the stands that should also put more fuel to the fire for this game. International hockey is a different game then that of what we are used to when watching the NHL and sometimes being different is not such a bad thing. The rivalries that Canada has with the United States and Sweden are very significant but I believe that Canada Russia has jumped to the forefront once again in recent years. The 2009 World Championship Final will provide yet another chapter in what has already been a storied history between two hockey giants.