GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) The Russian men’s hockey team’s 16-year wait for a medal may soon be over.
The ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” – as they’re called due to International Olympic Committee sanctions over doping – are now guaranteed to play for a medal after sweeping aside Norway 6-1 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
The gold-medal favorite in a tournament without NHL players, the pressure is on the Russian players from fans back home, with no Russian gold medals yet in Pyeongchang. They will play the Czech Republic in the semifinals on Friday after the Czechs eliminated the United States 3-2 in a shootout.
”Our dream’s still on,” said Russian captain Pavel Datysuk, who was on the Russian team that won bronze in 2002. ”We are in a tournament where we are the top favorite, but we need to improve.”
Later Wednesday, Canada played Finland and Sweden faced Germany for berths in the other semifinal.
Russia charged to a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period, outshooting Norway 19-2, and remained in control throughout the game as chants of ”Red Machine” and ”Russia” echoed around the half-empty Gangneung Hockey Center. Nikita Gusev finished with a goal and two assists, while Slava Voynov had a goal and an assist.
Russia outshot Norway 32-14 and the Norwegians at times looked very much like a team that had played a day earlier.
Forward Ilya Kovalchuk – like Datsyuk, in his fifth Olympics – said Russia hadn’t done enough.
”I think we can play much better than we played today. We kind of stopped playing after 30 minutes, we can’t do that in the tournament so we need to take a little rest,” Kovalchuk said. ”We’ll be much better in the next game.”
”We are a very hungry group of guys,” Kovalchuk added. ”Next game will be the biggest one.”
No Russian team has won a medal since 2002, with the last gold won by the post-Soviet Unified Team in 1992. That team also played under the Olympic flag, as the Russians are doing in South Korea. Four years ago, Team Russia lost to Finland in the quarterfinals in Sochi, stunning the home fans.
The Russians took the lead midway through the first period when Mikhail Grigorenko hit a shot top-shelf past Norwegian goaltender Lars Haugen.
Less than five minutes later, Gusev made it 2-0 on a rebound during a power play, and former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Voynov closed out the period with his first goal of the tournament, a wrist shot assisted by Gusev.
Norway’s Alexander Bonsaksen capitalized on a Russian defensive error to make it 3-1 in the second, but the Russians soon responded with goals from Sergei Kalinin and Nikita Nesterov, whose shot ricocheted in off Bonsaksen. Ivan Telegin scored his first goal of the tournament, and Russia’s sixth of the game, with seven minutes remaining in the third off a Grigorenko pass.
Despite the five-goal margin of victory ”we know we need to play better,” Datysuk said. ”We can play better.”
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