The Russians, seeking their first hockey gold since 1992, blanked the Czech Republic 3-0 to reach Sunday’s championship contest, but were overshadowed by an unlkikely German league all-star squad that collected their nation’s greatest ever hockey victory.
“It’s amazing. I can’t believe it. It’s like a dream. For us it’s like, I don’t know, best thing ever,” Germany goaltender Danny aus den Birken said. “We have to realize we’re playing in the final. I have to come down first to realize it.
“Who knows? If we keep fighting like this we have nothing to lose.”
The Germans, familiar with one another from world championship play, are assured of an Olympic-best result — their only prior medals being bronze in 1932 and as West Germany in 1976.
“We’re just a bunch of hard-working guys who sacrifice for each other,” said German forward Patrick Hager. “It’s hard to believe. It gives you goosebumps.”
Canada’s nightmare defeat added to the misery of a hockey-mad nation a day after the women’s team, seeking a fifth consecutive gold, lost the final to the United States in a shootout.
“They came out to play and we didn’t,” said Canada forward Rob Klinkhammer. “This was one of the biggest games we’ve ever played and there was no reason not to be ready. We let a big one get away from us.”
The Russians, with players off the nation’s two top clubs, hope to collect their first gold since the Unified Team won 26 years ago at Albertville — just weeks after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“It would just mean everything to us,” said Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko. “It’s huge for the players and the country.”
An Olympics without NHL talent for the first time since 1994 lived up to its billing as a wide-open affair, Germans booking their best global showing since a 1953 West German world runner-up effort.
“It means a lot. We haven’t played for a championship in a long time,” Germany coach Marco Sturm said. “This has been unbelievable.”
Europe-based talent produced surprises, none bigger than the Germans who ousted Switzerland and Sweden from the playoffs in over-time then delivered more.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Germany’s Brooks Macek said.
Macek opened the scoring in the first period. Matthias Plachta and Frank Mauer followed early in the second period for a 3-0 German lead. Canada answered on Gilbert Brule’s power-play goal but Patrick Hager responded for a 4-1 Germany edge.
“They scored four goals on nine shots. We didn’t let them in. They were just going in,” Canada coach Willie Desjardins said.
Mat Robinson and Derek Roy lifted Canada within 4-3 but the champs could not manage the equaliser. After the last of Aus den Birken’s 28 saves and the final horn, Germany’s bench cleared in celebration as Canadian players and fans watched silently.
– ‘Test of will’ –
The Russians, who boast the Olympics’ most prolific attack, got second-period goals 27 seconds apart from Nikita Gusev and Vladislav Gavrikov and a late clincher from Ilya Kovalchuk while goalie Vasili Koshechkin made 31 saves.
It sets up the first Olympic final involving Russians since they lost 1-0 to the Czechs 20 years ago.
“It’s going to be a good game and a test of our will,” Kovalchuk said. “We’ll be ready for sure.”
The previously unbeaten Czechs will play Canada for bronze on Saturday.