Defending champions Team Russia enters tonight’s gold medal game undefeated, relatively untested, and very unavailable to the media. There are no press conferences announcing lineup changes or team strategy and no player interviews which might allow some insight into how they may be approaching the game. And that’s the way the Russians like it.
But if the Russian practice this afternoon is any indication, they expect a physical game from Canada. Physical--with plenty of penalties. In addition to play along the boards, the Russians spent a good part of their practice time working on their power play. If given the opportunity, their combination of puck control, crisp hard passing, and cycling could give Canadian penalty killers problems.
In goal, Russia has confidence in Andrei Medvedev, one of eight returning players from last year’s championship team. Medvedev boasts a paltry 1.75 goals against average with a save percentage of 91.67%. Team defense has looked solid, although have not faced a tough, physical forechecking club like Canada. (They destroyed an under-achieving American squad early in the tournament).
The Russians have no worries on offense with the likes of 17-year-old sensation Alexander Ovechkin (6 goals, 1 assist), Igor Grigorenko (5-3), and setup man Yuri Trubachev (2-7). The Russians play a high-level skill game that relies on anticipation, timing, and speed. All three could be affected by an effective physical game by the Canadians, but that would also raise the risk of bringing on the Russian power play. That is just what head coach Rafail Ishmatov is hoping.
The Russians have been watching the Canadians closely and know what they have to offer. And, who knows, maybe the information they pick up from a Canadaian press conference or player interview could be the difference in this game.