Instead a team competing neutrally as Olympic Athletes from Russia, the IOC’s inspired nomenclatural workaround to incorporate Russians at the Pyeongchang Games despite a wholesale doping ban, held off a stingy German team in the game of the tournament to capture Olympic men’s hockey gold, the first for a Russian-affiliated team since 1992.
Kirill Kaprizov’s one-time winner from the right circle on a power play in overtime followed a white-knuckle finish to regulation that saw the OAR team take back the lead they’d surrendered only to fall behind again before scoring a last-gasp short-handed equalizer with their goaltender pulled.
All in the final six and a half minutes.
“It was the craziest game ever,” said OAR forward Ilya Kovalchuk, the ex-NHL star whose five goals in South Korea made him the top-scoring Olympian from Russia of all time. “When we had the penalty with two minutes to go, I honestly thought we won’t be Olympic champions.”
The furious sequence started when Kontinental Hockey League star Nikita Gusev fired in a gorgeous top-shelf goal off the goalie’s mask to break a 1-all deadlock with 6:39 left in the third period, a score that felt like a game-winner after the teams had gone more than a full period spanning the second intermission without finding the back of the net.
But the celebration lasted all of eight seconds as Germany quickly equalized on Dominic Kahun’s second goal of the afternoon, followed by Jonas Müller’s score with 3:16 left to put the Germans ahead 3-2.
Just over a minute later OAR forward Sergei Kalinin was called for a two-minute tripping penalty, leaving the favorites short-handed for effectively the remainder of regulation.
That’s when Gusev whipped a slap shot off German goaltender Danny aus den Birken’s right shoulder to tie the score with 55.5 seconds left and send it into 4-on-4 sudden-death overtime.
From there Russia took control, nearly winning it with 13:30 left in the extra period when a sure winner by Kovalchuk somehow caught the left pad of a sprawling Aus Den Birken, who preserved the deadlock with the best and most important save of the Olympics.
But it was for naught as Kaprizov, who also had three assists on the day, ripped a slap shot past the goalie with 10:20 left in overtime for the golden goal, kicking off pandemonium among the Russian supporters as they celebrated hockey gold for the first time since the first Winter Games of the post-Soviet era.
“It’s a little tough right now because we all felt we could have won that game, but that’s hockey,” Germany coach Marco Sturm said. “It’s just the way it is. I think we all thought we’d sit there and watch the final on the couch at home, but here we are. The boys are going to bring silver home and they should be very proud of that.”
The awkward accoutrements of the aftermath, as the Not Russian anthem played while the Not Russian flag was elevated to the rafters, did nothing the dampen the enthusiasm of the many red-clad supporters at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, where the upper bowl of the 10,000-seat arena was festooned with Russian banners and flags with costumed supporters in full throat.
One row of fans wore coordinated red shirts spelling out RUSSIA IN MY HEART while a few rows down a pair of groups spelled out the team’s nickname, RED MACHINE, in both English and Cyrillic. The hundreds who stayed to watch their team receive their medals joined the players in defiantly singing the banned Russian national anthem as a recording of the International Olympic Committee anthem played over the arena sound system while the Olympic flag was raised, making a mockery of the resolution that enabled their participation.
None of it bothered Kovalchuk, finally a gold medalist in his fifth Winter Olympics, who said the players had discussed whether they’d sing the anthem beforehand. Mostly, the 34-year-old was thrilled about the gold.
“Since I was five years old, when I started to play hockey, this was the dream of my late father,” he said. “This was my dream.”
The victory came one day after the IOC ruled against restoring the delegation’s status, preventing the Russian athletes from marching in under their country’s flag at Sunday night’s closing ceremony.
The OAR team had entered Sunday’s final on a head of steam since losing their opening match to Slovakia, winning their next four games by an aggregate score of 21-3. They were given their a stiff challenge by Germany, who overcame a slow start to reach the gold medal game for the first time in the country’s history with upsets of Sweden and Canada, a pair of traditional powers who they’d never previously beaten on Olympic ice.
But their spirited bid for a Miracle on Ice redux was cut short in the most dramatic fashion possible as the OAR side became only the second team in the history of Olympic men’s ice hockey to win the gold medal after opening with a loss, joining Canada’s 2002 champions.
Betty MacDonald fan club founder Wolfgang Hampel sings 'Try to remember' especially for Betty MacDonald fan club organizer Linde Lund at Vita Magica September
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