December 31 2010 08:33AM
This is Valeri Kharlamov. He had a major impact on every Canadian hockey fan 38 years ago. Game 1, Canada-Russia. My father and I agreed that Frank Mahovlich would be the best player against the Soviets because of his size and skill (he wasn't; that honor went to Phil Esposito). September 2, 1972.
Canada had a 2-0 lead by the 6:32 mark of the first period. They would be outscored 7-1 over the final 54 minutes. A few years later, the Russians would play Montreal at the Forum on New Year's eve. It's a classic, the game will be on television at least once today in Canada (has been for many years). There's another game this New Year's eve that you might want to watch. It could be a classic too.
The Russians tied up G1 after 20 minutes and the second period was the key one in that contest. Kharlamov scored twice--both times with an assist from linemate Alexander Maltsev--and I can remember watching Kharlamov with wonder sitting next to my Dad. It was like the moon landing or the October crisis: you couldn't turn away even if you tried.
On August 27, 1981, Valeri Kharlamov died in a car accident (his wife was driving, and they left two children behind). The last time I checked he was the all-time leader in Olympic points for the powerhouse Russians and remains a mystery and a legend for men of my age (read: old guys).
Valeri Kharlamov would have been a very rich man if he'd been born 20 years later, but he remains a fascination because of his sublime work on that night 38 year ago (September 1972).
The 1975 game will be on sometime today. It's ranked as the greatest game of all-time by some, but in reality it shows a dominant Habs team that is flawed only by Ken Dryden's thinking too much in goal. As God is my witness the big-brained Dryden outsmarted himself every time he played the USSR; the Bruins might have won in 1971 with a Russian on the team.
The Russian team in 1975 had a deadly counterpunch in that their forwards were all slick stickhandlers and passers. The game's flow has enormous amounts of time where Montreal owns the puck and pressures Tretiak followed by brief moments of complete brilliance by the Russian squad (which resulted in three goals). If you like passes, you'll love the 1975 game.
This afternoon's WJ game is one I've been looking forward to for a long time. We have an idea about Team Canada now: plenty of skill, lots of workers, a strong and intelligent defense and solid goaltending. The key so far for Canada has been a tremendous powerplay led by their two best players (Schenn and Ellis).
Canada has scored 23 goals (Sweden: 15) and 7 of those came with the man advantage. Sweden is a strong even strength team (EV goals by team: Canada-15; Sweden-12) and don't allow many goals (Sweden has given up 4 goals in three games; Canada has allowed 6).
Sweden's big stars are goalie Robin Lehner (1gp, he stopped 30 shots without allowing a goal); Anton Lander (money in the faceoff circle and enjoying a strong WJ's: 3gp, 1-3-4 +5) and a strong defense of their own (led by Adam Larsson and Tim Erixon). Their goals may come from Jesper Fasth, Patrik Cehlin and Calle Jarnkrok (along with Lander who has scored the prettiest goal of the competition so far).
The winner of today's game gets a bye to the semifinals, and the loser must play what will be a tough quarterfinal (possibly facing the Americans or the Finns). Here's today's schedule:
- Canada versus Sweden 1:30 Edmonton time (tsn broadcast)
- USA versus Switzerland 6:00 Edmonton time (tsn broadcast)
Also today (but not televised in Canada--if it is, let me know) Finland will play the Slovaks (the Finns are having a strong WJ's and are a contender to make the final four) and the Russians play the Czechs (both have had miserable tournaments and this is a must win for each club).
The relegation round awaits some powerful hockey nations today. This should be a splendid set of games at the World Juniors.
Happy New Year, please be safe.