U.S. game Saturday vs. Russia should offer plenty of intensity
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter February 13, 2014 11:00PM
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Paul Stastny #26 of United States celebrates with team-mates after scoring a goal against Jaroslav Halak #41 of Slovakia in the second period during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 461426919
Updated: February 16, 2014 12:15AM
SOCHI, Russia — J.P. Parise, furious about a penalty call, slammed his stick on the ice, wheeled around and took a few purposeful strides toward referee Josef Kampalla, raising his stick above his head and barely checking his swing.
Parise was inches away from smashing the stick over the petrified official’s head — close enough that Kampalla cowered against the boards and braced for impact.
It was 1972. It was the final game of the famed Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, the first time NHL professionals squared off against what they foolishly presumed was a team of amateurs. It was everything.
‘‘If it happened nowadays, I think he’d be banned from every hockey rink in the world,’’ a laughing Zach Parise said of his dad. ‘‘That just shows how emotional the series was.’’
The elder Parise was assessed a match penalty and didn’t get to celebrate the dramatic and historic victory with his teammates in full gear. No regrets, though.
‘‘Apparently, after he did it, the refs shaped up a little bit and started calling the game fair,’’ Zach Parise said. ‘‘So I think he did the right thing.’’
There’s just something about playing Russia, even in the post-Soviet era. The history, the iconic names, the legendary games — for so many years, they all seemed to revolve around the Russians. Now, at the Sochi Games, the Russians are once again the centers of attention, under indescribable pressure to pull out an unlikely gold medal on their home soil.
Alex Ovechkin’s face is on seemingly every billboard and Coke machine. A picture of Evgeni Malkin is plastered eight stories high on the side of a building near the Olympic park. Fans are wandering the streets with giant cut-out heads of Ilya Kovalchuk. And captain Pavel Datsyuk is risking the ire of his fans and team back in
Detroit to play despite an apparent knee injury.
‘‘I participated in four Olympics, and I don’t remember such an interest in ice-hockey players,’’ Soviet goaltending legend and former Blackhawks consultant Vladislav Tretiak said.
That interest will reach a fever pitch Saturday (6:30 a.m. Central time) at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, where the United States and Russia will renew their rivalry in
arguably their highest-profile meeting since the ‘‘Miracle on Ice’’ in 1980. Sure, it’s only a preliminary game. But a bye to the quarterfinals might be at stake, and the site of the game has elevated it to big-game status.
‘‘I think it’ll be loud,’’ Hawks star Patrick Kane said after Team USA throttled Slovakia 7-1 in its opener Thursday, a game in which Kane had two assists and Paul Stastny had two goals. ‘‘And it’ll definitely be a hostile environment. I think it’ll be a lot more enthusiastic and intense than this game today.’’
All the players involved know the history of Russian hockey; a few even have some blood in it. Parise’s dad was on the Canadian team for the Summit Series. Ryan Suter’s dad, Bob, was a defenseman on the 1980 U.S. team that shocked the Soviets and the world in Lake Placid, N.Y. And Russian forward Viktor Tikhonov is the grandson of the former Soviet coach of the same name, the man who was behind the bench in 1980.
‘‘Forty years later it’s almost the same thing, where we’re going to be playing the Russians,’’ Parise said. ‘‘I don’t think there are a lot of father-son combinations that can say they share that experience that we have.’’
If Russia’s tougher-than-it-should-have-been 5-2 victory Thursday against Slovenia was any indication — the noise was absolutely deafening at Bolshoy — it’ll be a singular experience. Unless, of course, the historic rivals meet again in an even bigger game, with even higher stakes, next week.
‘‘I’ve played against Russia before in some different tournaments,” Kane said. ‘‘But it’s a different animal in the Olympics and in their hometown.’’