Russia may not miss Communism.
But Russian hockey definitely misses Communism.
The CCCP juggernaut used to train at an Army base before heading to the Olympics. These Russians jump out of limos. The CCCP team was composed of the Soviet Union’s very best. This Russian squad picked nine players from its country’s own inferior league by way of proving a point. But I don’t get the point.
The Soviets were a red army, Despite their crappy skates and creaky sticks, they may have been the best hockey team ever. These Russian millionaires had trouble beating Slovenia.
The Russians pulled away in today’s Olympic opener, scoring two third-period goals to defeat Slovenia, 5-2. But Russia led by just 3-2 after two periods and clearly showed signs of the unbearable pressure they face in their home Olympics.
Slovenia has one Los Angeles King and a bunch of guys who play for Red Bull Salzburg and Olimpija Ljubljana. Anze Kopitar’s presence would enable Slovenia to win the Bethel Park Blade Runners men’s league. But Slovenia wouldn’t go undefeated.
The Russians nonetheless struggled vs. Slovenia. Russia was never in danger of losing. Slovenia had precious few chances and not much possession. But the Russians were tight. They alternated between trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Russia figures to play better against the United States on Saturday.
But can they play well enough to win gold at these Olympics? Anything less will greatly disappoint every Russian, from Putin to proletariat.
I saw the CCCP team absolutely lay waste. Canada rightly commemorates its various triumphs, but the Soviets beat Canada, 8-1, in the 1981 Canada Cup championship. They beat the NHL All-Stars 6-0 in the final game of the 1979 Challenge Cup. Canada won the initial meeting, the 1972 Summit Series, but Canada was supposed to win eight straight. Canada instead triumphed by the slimmest of margins, taking the last three games in Moscow to eke out a 4-3-1 series victory. The Soviets won Olympic gold eight out of 10 times between 1956-92.
This Russian team has lost that lineage. They don’t play with the same grace, calm and discipline. They simply don’t have the same quality. The aura disappeared along with the state funding and training, and there’s no getting it back.
The Russians play like a typical NHL team. That’s not a compliment. They won't win these Olympics. They probably won’t medal.