It all comes down to one game at the IIHF World Championships. Slovakia beat their hated rival, the Czech Republic 5-4 today to advance to the final. Meanwhile Russia, led by a hattrick from Evgeni Malkin defeated the host Finns 6-2.
Both teams came into the tournament with heavy hearts and heavy minds. It was just 10 months ago that the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv tragedy occurred. You’ll recall that the KHL team’s charter plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 45 people on board. The tragedy was felt throughout the hockey world, but was something that has particularly effected these two countries, and hockey teams.
The Russian squad is reluctant to talk about the tragedy, however this is a tragedy that has touched the members of the team directly. There is probably not a member of the Russian team who has not lost a former teammate or a friend in the tragedy. Goalie Semyon Varlamov was a member of Lokomotiv when he played in Russia. The Russian team has quietly dedicated their performance in this tournament to the memories of those who were on board the ill-fated flight.
Meanwhile, Pavol Demitra of Slovakia was also one of those who unfortunately perished in the crash. He was the long time captain of the Slovak National Team, and was always there with his best performances in IIHF competition. Demitra was especially effective at the 2010 Olympics where he led the Slovaks to a surprising 4th place finish (and they were just inches away from tying the Canadians in the last seconds of the semi-final in Vancouver as well).
The entire Slovak team has dedicated the tournament to Pavol’s memory. The players where t-shirts with Pavol Demitra’s cartoon likeness, and the #38 on them under their equipment. Tomas Kopecky wears a special hat with Demitra’s #38 on it for post game interviews.
Whatever happens tomorrow, there will be no loser. The players on these teams lost enough just 10 months ago. Tomorrow will be a celebration of the memories of their friends and teammates. And there can be no better tribute than that, to finish these World Championships.
… and thats the Last Word.