Russia's ice hockey team have landed back in Moscow after being crowned world champions – a victory they dedicated to the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. Despite the early hours some 1,000 fans came to welcome the heroes at Sheremetievo airport.
Malkin, Ovechkin and Co. beat Slovakia 6-2 in the final in Helsinki to finish the tournament as the only unbeaten side. Russia were the top seeds and overwhelming favorites for the final, but they got off to a woeful start against the Slovaks, conceding a goal to Zdeno Chara in the first minute.
However, Russia then found the net six times. The final’s best player Aleksandr Semin got a brace, and four more came from Aleksandr Perezhogin, Aleksey Tereshchenko, Pavel Datsyuk and tournament MVP Evgeni Malkin.
Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov received a call from President Vladimir Putin, congratulating them on their achievement.
“Vladimir Putin supported our national team and watched the final on television from beginning to end, like the majority of games of the Russian national team at world championships," the Kremlin press service said.
Thousands of cheering Russians poured out onto the streets across the country to celebrate the victory they had been awaiting for three years. Around 1,000 gathered in Moscow’s Sheremetievo airport to show their respects in person.
“I had to remind the team that Slovakia is really good, and that they beat the Czechs and Canada. I'm grateful to my team as they played well, not only in this final but in the whole tournament,'' coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said on his arrival in Moscow. He added that the team dedicated Sunday’s victory to the late Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, whose main squad got killed in a plane crash last September.
It's Russia’s first world title since 2009, and they did it in style with ten wins out of ten. The Red Machine proved head and shoulders above all opponents as they scored the most and conceded the least in Stockholm and Helsinki, finishing the tournament with a plus-30 goal difference. They delegated two players to the team of the tournament – Evgeny Malkin and captain Ilya Nikulin.
“We are the Big Red Machine just now,'' defenseman Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs said. "But without Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk it would have been very hard to score all those goals. And Evgeni Malkin, what can you say? He's the best player in the world, for sure.''
Malkin led in goals with 11 and points with 19, and headed the plus-minus ratings at +14, along with teammate Perezhogin.
Another top performer, Datsyuk was the “glue” that helped the men come together and play cohesively. He too had good words about Malkin. Neither had ever tasted a world champs gold before.
“He was unbelievable all the way, and deserves all the credit he got. I am happy to play with him again,'' Datsyuk said.
Russia did not rely on big names in goal, but Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche took individual honors with a 93.93 save percentage and 1.70 goals-against average. In the final he had 29 saves, while Slovakia's Jan Laco and Peter Hamerlik combined for 36.
The Russian team might be built with an eye on the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and Datsyuk was asked about the NHL possibly deciding not to let its players compete.
“That is two years from now, and I cannot say anything about something so far away as I don't even know what will happen tomorrow,” Datsyuk said.