There is no bigger rivalry in hockey, certainly not on the international stage. Canada and Russia will clash yet again in an important hockey game tomorrow night, this time the gold-medal game of the 2005 world junior championship. Russia knocked off the U.S. 7-2 last night here in Grand Forks, N.D.
"It brings back a lot of memories," Canada coach Brent Sutter said when asked of the rivalry. "It goes back to 1972 (and the Summit Series). There is excitement in the air. That's just the way it is. It's a natural rivalry.
"We can't get caught up in what they do. We have to focus on our strengths. If we play the way we are capable, we'll be fine."
There is a revenge factor at work for Canada as it never has beaten Russia in the final of the world junior championship, losing all three previous encounters. In 2003 and 2002, Canada lost by a goal to Russia in the final. It also happened in 1999 in Winnipeg, when Artem Chubarov scored in overtime, beating Roberto Luongo.
And if that's not enough, even the fairweather hockey fan would have to admit it doesn't get much juicier than the first meeting between Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby and Russian star Alexander Ovechkin.
The latter was a member of the team that won in Halifax in 2003, and acknowledged after the game last night he would like to meet Crosby in person. But Ovechkin, the first pick overall by the Washington Capitals in the NHL draft last June, is more concerned about Canada as whole.
"I don't look at Crosby," Ovechkin said. "We're playing Canada, not just Crosby. Hockey is played as a team. They have a good team, with good forwards and good defencemen. But nobody knows the goalie (Jeff Glass). We must prove we have better forwards.
"We think Canada is just a team, not a god."
Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin each scored two goals last night, including one empty-netter apiece. Enver Lisin, Sergei Shirokov and Mikhail Yunkov also scored for Russia.
Maple Leafs pick Dimitri Vorobiev, the only Toronto prospect in the 2005 world junior tournament, had four assists.
Canada has waltzed through its first five games of this championship but few expect it will have an easy time tomorrow.
Russia's defence corps and goaltending may not be as good as in recent years but Canada will have its hands full with Ovechkin and Malkin.
"The way Canada gets traffic to the net and continues to follow shots to the net, (goalie Anton Khudobin) doesn't look like a goalie who is used to that style," Leafs scout Craig Button said.
"Russia will challenge Canada's penalty killing because Russia can really handle the puck."