As you can imagine, the early exit of Team Russia at the Winter Olympics is treated as a national tragedy back in Russia. A good majority of the sports coverage is about hockey, as if the Olympic games are over. Even Vladimir Putin said that a serious analysis should be undertaken to determine what went wrong in Vancouver for all Russian athletes, including the hockey team. Those of you who care can most likely read all those thoughts on your own, in Russian. However, in the midst of all this, Russians also try to break down not only what went wrong for Russia, but also what went right for Canada. As United States is going to face Canada on Sunday for the gold medal, a few of those thoughts from the current San Jose Shark Evgeni Nabokov and the former Shark Igor Larionov may still be relevant to the upcoming classic between the two rivals.
First, a few excerpts from an interview Nabokov gave to Sport-Express, following the loss to Canada on Wednesday.
Would you say that the physical approach to the game played a major role in the outcome of this contest?
I don't think they surprised us in any way. We knew that they were going to be hungry for a victory and that they'll start a game this way. With the help of their fans, they had to. On the other hand, they scored the first goal too fast and didn't stop after that. They continued to push, and we were unable to stop the bleeding. The difference in shots by both teams speaks for itself. They did not stop for a second and played very well.
How did you react to the decision by the coaches to substitute you?
I never take those easily. It's never easy to watch the game from the bench. But either way, Canada deserved a win.
Was it hard to shake the hands of your Sharks teammates, Thornton, Marleau, Heatley and Boyle?
No, we knew we had to do it no matter what was the outcome. I wish them luck. The way they play together is a pure Canadian hockey in action. They don't leave the crease, they constantly shoot, and they're first to rebounds.
Which goals do you blame yourself for?
Does it matter now? There were too many of them that went in. It's hard for me to analyze this right now. My job is to stops the pucks. Unfortunately, I failed at my job.
After the first period did you think about asking for a substitute?
I never ask to be pulled.
How well did you know the opponent theoretically?
I'm not going to answer that question.
What is the biggest strength of Team Canada?
They have many strengths. I think their biggest strength is they are well prepared theoretically. We can do a better job at that. Someone thinks it's too straight forward, but it brings results. They were constantly pushing forward with desire, were standing in front of the net blocking my sight, and were passing to the far post - all this was very impressive. We should work on that.
Did you get disappointed in anyone [during this tournament]?
No. This is hockey - a game of mistakes. In each game one makes more mistakes, while the other one less.
Another person who always gives insightful interviews to the media is a former Shark Igor Larionov, who also spoke to Sport-Express following the game.
As expected, from the very first seconds of the game Canadian stormed forward. What did you think when that happened?
Of course this was expected. To understand Canadian game philosophy all you have to do is watch the first few games and see how they developed their style. Maybe it's just me who sees that, and not our coaching staff. But as we look at Team Canada players and what roles they played in their game against USA, it was no surprise that the same game would continue. Canadians scouted us well and knew everything about us. Only the Russian fans who never watch NHL could have been saying that we're the best and that we'll beat everybody.
Canadians have a specific role for all their players and the players accepted it. For example, [Rick] Nash, who's a leader of his NHL team, plays on a checking line here. That's the key point. And of course it's easy to see their motivation. These are the Olympic Games, and it's their only chance to win gold at home playing for their country. Plus, at the end of the day Russia is their biggest rival.
Many saw that game as a contest between Ovechkin and Crosby. In the end, neither one was a hero in that game.
Crosby and Ovechkin are two great players who always give their best. Crosby was all over the ice. I actually like him a lot. He's a true leader with fire inside of him. He's got great hands, and his head is always looking around, with his legs constantly in motion. He gives 120% in every game. Ovechkin is a different kind of player, bigger, but faster and a more aggressive player, but with the same work ethic. For those reasons they are leaders on their team. But I always said that the outcome is not decided by players, but by teams. In a game like this, no one should "fall out" - or else you lose the balance. That's exactly what happened to Russia.