Friday, May 6, 2016

The 2016 IIHF World Championships - 1992 Russia National Team Alexi Kovalev Jersey

The 2016 IIHF World Championship begins today in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia.

2016 IIHF World Championship logo photo 2016 IIHF World Championship logo horizontal.jpg

The 16 teams are divided into two groups, with Group A consisting of hosts Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Denmark and Kazakhstan, with all games being played at the 12,100 capacity VTB Ice Palace in Moscow.

Group B sees Canada, Finland, the United States, Slovakia, Belarus, France, Germany, and Hungary playing their games at the 7,300 capacity Yubileyny Sports Palace in Saint Petersburg.

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The tournament mascot, Laika

This will be just the third time the World Championships have been held in Russia since the break up of the Soviet Union, with the previous two times being in 2000 (Saint Petersburg) and 2007 (Moscow). Prior to that, the Soviet Union hosted the World Championships in 1957, 1973, 1979 and 1986, with all four taking place in Moscow.

The format of the tournament calls for each team to play the other seven teams in it's group in the Preliminary Round, which extends from today, May 6th through May 17th. The current format, as opposed to the old one in which there were four groups of four, favors the higher ranked teams, as a single loss is less devastating when playing a seven game schedule in the opening round as opposed to the earlier format's three games.

Once the Preliminary Round has been completed, the last place teams in each group will be relegated to Division I Group A for the 2017 season, unless either France or Germany finish last in Group B, as they are guaranteed a place in next year's World Championships as co-hosts of next year's event.

While Slovenia has secured their place in the 2017 Worlds by winning the recently completed Division I Group A, Italy will be anxiously awaiting the results of the Preliminary round in Russia, as they will be promoted to the 2017 Top Division tournament - unless both France and Germany finish 7th and 8th in Group B, in which case Italy will lose its promotion.

The top 4 teams in each group will advance to the Quarterfinals on May 19th with the winners meeting in the Semifinals on May 21st. The losers of those games will meet the next day on May 22nd for the bronze medal while the winners will face off for the IIHF World Championship later the same day.

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The World Championship trophy

Today's opening day begins with Sweden taking on Latvia in Group A, while Group B wastes no time as the United States begins their schedule with no less than Canada. Later today host Russia faces the Czech Republic in Group A in Moscow and the other Group B match sees Finland open against Belarus.

Saturday sees a massive six games on the schedule as the rest of the 16 teams begin play before the day concludes with the United States playing Belarus in Saint Petersburg. There are also six games on Sunday, by the end of which all teams will have played twice.

For fans in Canada, TSN will show, for the first time ever, every game of the World Championships. Viewers in the US can watch all of the American games, two Quarterfinals, both Semifinals and the Bronze and Gold Medal games on the NBC Sports Network, but note that some of the games will  only be streamed on NBC Live Extra and not all of them will be on NBCSN. With the time difference between North America and Moscow, games will air live between mid morning and early afternoon eastern time.

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The Russia National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 2nd in the IIHF World Rankings and played their first international game in April of 1992 after breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent games as the Confederation of Independent States and The Unified Team as late as February of 1992 during the Winter Olympics. Quite literally, the Soviet Union ceased to exist during the 1992 World Junior Tournament while the Soviet team was competing.

The Russians have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey six times since 1994. Their best result was a silver medal in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. Their only other medal was a bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

Pavel and Valeri Bure Silver 1998 photo Pavel and Valeri Bure Silver 1998.jpg
Pavel and Valeri Bure with their silver medals in 1998

Since 1992, Russia has been regular participants at the World Championships. After finishing fifth in 1994, they won their first World Championship gold medal in 1993 in  Germany. After a lackluster First Round, where they opened with a 2-2 tie against Italy and a later both a 5-2 loss to Sweden and a 3-1 loss to Canada, they came alive in the Playoffs with a 5-1 win over Germany and a confidence boosting 7-4 win over Canada, which put them in the gold medal game, where they got their revenge on Sweden 3-1 to become World Champions for the first time as Russia.

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Ilya Byakin, Andrei Khomutov, Vyacheslav Bykov and
Vyacheslav Butsayev after winning the 1993 World Championship

The Russians entered a down period following their championship in 1993, finishing either fourth or fifth at the World Championships for the next six years, followed by a disastrous tournament in 2000 when they finished a shocking 11th, which included losses to the United States, Switzerland, Latvia and Belarus, made even worse by the fact it was as hosts in Saint Petersburg.

The program showed signs of life when they returned to the medal podium in 2002 with a silver medal, but 2003 and 2004 saw them again finish a distant 7th and 10th.

 Things began to change with a bronze in 2005 and again in 2007 in Moscow before a satisfying undefeated run through the 2008 tournament, which concluded with a 5-4 win over Canada in Canada to claim their first championship in 15 years, something unimaginable during the days of the Soviet Union's Big Red Machine.

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Alexander Ovechkin never passes on a chance to play for Russia
and is seen here with the 2008 World Championshp trophy

Their 2008 gold medal was shown to not be a fluke when they repeated as gold medalists again in 2009, a second consecutive unbeaten run that concluded with another one goal victory over Canada.

Since then the Russians have been a force to be reckoned with, earning their fourth consecutive medal in 2010 with a silver, a fourth place in 2011 and a return to gold with a championship again in 2012, this time not only undefeated, but all coming in regulation without giving up a point in the standings.

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Russia celebrating their perfect run through
the 2012 World Championships

After a sixth place in 2013, they won their fifth gold medal as Russia in 2014  behind another ten consecutive regulation wins without a single game even going to overtime.

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Russia accepting their 2014 World Championship Trophy

Last year they won a second straight medal, in the form of a silver, their third since 2002 to go with a pair of bronze and four gold, a total of nine medals in the last 14 years.

Today's featured jersey is a 1992 Russia National Team Alexi Kovalev jersey as worn during the 1992 World Championships during the earliest days of the Russian National Team following the breakup of the Soviet Union in December of 1991.

When competing at the 1992 Olympics in February of 1992, Russia competed as the Unified Team, a joint team from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Armenia, wearing the last of their old Soviet Union jerseys, only with a blank space where the CCCP lettering used to reside on the front.

By the time the World Championships arrived in late April, Russia now had their own separate hockey program and were decked out in their stunning new jerseys which featured a bold design based on the onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square.

For some reason, these great jerseys had a unexpectedly short life span, having only been used for the 1992 World Championships and the 1993 World Juniors before being replaced by a new style.

Kovalev was one of the most skilled players in the history of Russian hockey and played 19 seasons in the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, making him one of the first four Russians to ever have their name engraved on the cup.

Internationally, he played twice for the Soviet Union at the European Juniors, as part of the Unified Team at the 1992 World Juniors and Olympics, winning gold both times, and for Russia eight times, three World Championships, earning a bronze in 2005 (when he was named the Best Forward), the World Cup of Hockey twice, and two more Olympics, winning bronze in 2002.

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Russia 1992 jersey photo Russia1992B.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1993 Russia National Team Alexei Yashin jersey like those worn at the World Championships held in Germany where Russia defeated Sweden 3-1 to win the only World Championship gold medal of Yashin's career.

This Tackla jersey filled a narrow gap between the Tackla jerseys of the Soviet Union and the change to Reebok branding for all teams in 1994.

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Russia 1993 WC jersey photo Russia 1993 WC B jersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2009 Russia National Team Ilya Kovalchuk jersey as worn when Russia captured the gold medal at the 2009 World Championships as Kovalchuk was named the tournament's MVP after scoring 14 points in nine games.

Kovalchuk, who normally wears #17 in NHL competition in honor of former Soviet great Valeri Kharlamov, regularly wears #71 when playing for the National Team due to #17 being retired by the National Team in the late Kharlamov's honor.

This style was only worn for the 2009 World Championships before it was immediately replaced by a new style for 2010.

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Russia 2009 jersey photo Russia 2009 WC B.jpg

In today's video section, Kovalchuk scores the winning goal in overtime of the 2008 World Championships, defeating the host Canadians.

Next are highlights from Russia's 2012 World Championship.

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