It may not have been against the highest caliber group of Russian stars, but France’s 2-1 victory over Russia at the IIHF World Championships was still a historic one.
Yes the Russians are missing Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk, all NHL superstars who helped lead their country to gold at the 2012 tournament, but they were still the heavy favourites heading into this preliminary round matchup.
They have a handful of NHLers on their roster including New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuck and Artem Anisimov and Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets , plus players like Alexander Radulov who’ve spent time in the NHL. France only has one current NHL player on their team in 23-year-old Dallas Stars defenceman Antoine Roussel and as luck would have it, he ended up scoring the winning goal with just over three minutes remaining in the second period.
"It was my first start, an unbelievably good result for us," France’s goalie Florian Hardy told the media after the win. "I don't know what to say, I'm so happy. When I watched the clock with five minutes to play, I thought that this is for real, that it is possible to win.
"All the team played an unbelievable game defensively. When the Russian player took the penalty shot and I stopped it, I just followed the puck and that was it."
That’s right the Russians had their opportunities including an Alexander Radulov penalty shot in the second period on which Hardy made one of his 28 saves.
Luckily for Russia the loss wasn’t in the medal round and they have another three preliminary round games to regain their footing, but their loss to the French combined with Canada’s shootout loss to Switzerland on Sunday has to make you wonder about two of the world’s biggest hockey powerhouses, especially nine months away from the Sochi Olympics.
The Canadians have at least rebounded since their disappointing performance against the Swiss – a team that has given them trouble on the international stage in the past – with victories against Norway, and more significantly, Sweden on Thursday. The win over the Swedes catapults the Canadians into second place in Group S standings with three preliminary round games remaining. Steven Stamkos has led the way offensively and is currently tied for the tournament lead with seven points.
You can bet both Russia and Canada’s rosters will be different for the Olympic tournament – Stamkos wasn’t even on Team Canada in 2010 – but there has to be something to be said about building momentum leading up to Sochi. The Russians were the no.1 ranked country heading into the World Championships according to the IIHF rankings and will want to impress a home crowd next winter after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
However, with that said you also can’t put too much weight behind a team’s success and or failures at the World Championships. In 2009, nine months before the 2010 Olympics, Russia claimed gold while the Americans, who won silver in Vancouver, didn’t even medal.
So yes, France’s victory over Russia was significant and historic, but it would be a definite hyperbole to suggest that the Russians are going to have something similar happen to them at the 2014 Olympics with a roster that will likely be filled with NHL stars.
And speaking of the Olympics, discussions are still underway between the NHL, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee to determine whether or not the world’s top players will be going to Sochi. While almost anyone would bet on the NHL’s best being there come next February, league Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told NHL.com on Thursday that he doesn’t expect a decision on the Olympics to come imminently, though he did say that ‘the process continues to move forward.’