Climbing to the Summit

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

VIENNA, Austria -- Where were you in '72? "Other than me, Kirk Maltby and Martin Brodeur, none of these guys were born yet,'' laughed Kris Draper. Where were you in '05?

Today may be the beginning of a whole new era in Canada-Russia hockey.

Today's Canada-Russia semifinal of the IIHF World Hockey Championship is still special, even if they were just kids when Wayne Gretzky made that pass to Mario Lemieux in 1987 - or any of those more modern memories.

Funny how it's different between these two countries now. For the Russians, who left the Soviet Union days behind them, it isn't really the same.

"It doesn't matter,'' says Alexei Kovalev here yesterday. "It's just a game to get to the final.''

But for the Canadians ...

"It'll always be special,'' said Joe Thornton after Canada practised in the old Wiener Stadthalle. "With what Canada has been through over the years with Russia, we'll never lose it.''

Martin Brodeur says he's lived so much of it through his dad. "He was at the game as a photographer,'' he said of his dad at the '72 series when Paul Henderson scored the goal to win for Canada. "For me, because of that alone, Canada-Russia is always special.''

HANGING ON HIS WALL

It may be one of Brodeur's dad's pictures Shane Doan has hanging on his wall at home.

"It's a huge picture of Henderson jumping into Yvan Cournoyer's arms. I've had it eight years now,'' said the Halkirk native.

Dany Heatley says age has nothing to do with it. "It doesn't matter how old you are. You know the history.''

Rick Nash says even if you weren't born yet, you grew up feeling it was part of you.

"Growing up in a hockey city, '72 and those other series become a part of your life.''

Ryan Smyth says the big thing is that Canada-Russia has been a bit dormant - he's in his seventh world championships and has never played them in the medal round before - but now there's a sense the Russians are moving back to the top.

"It's always been there. It's still there. We're still talking about it in our dressing room. Now we're playing them in a big game.''

LOST FOUR GOLDS

Since 1999, Canada has lost four gold-medal games to the Russians. But the two nations haven't played in the medal round at the world hockey championships in a decade.

Canada has won the last four early round games against Russia at this tournament dating back to then, the last two by scores of 5-2 and 5-1. Russia has not won a world championship since 1993. They were 10th last year and 11th as hosts in St. Petersburg in 2000.

But you could see this coming. When I was in Moscow in December on the Worldstars tour, Brodeur and the travelling team played essentially this Russian national team, disguised as the Russian Elite League All-Stars. The storyline at that game was Scotty Bowman seeing the future and Dominik Hasek seeing the past.

"I felt like it was the '70s and '80s when we'd come to Moscow and we'd never win,'' said the Czech goaltender of those Soviet Union teams. "In two or three years these young guys can make Russia the best team in the world again.''

Maybe by tomorrow night. Bowman, who was there for Igor Larionov's going away game, raved at what he watched with the top talent.

"Oh, they're good,'' said Bowman of Alexandre Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and the new generation.

"There's pride playing for Canada in a big game against the Russians,'' said Draper. "Now we have another big game against them. The Russians are in our way now.''

It might be the beginning of a whole new era of Canada-Russia. Who doesn't want that?


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