Bob Frid/Icon SMI)
Sunday was Medal Day at the 2012 World Championship, with Russia coming away with the gold medal following a 6-2 win over Slovakia at Hartwell Arena in Helsinki, Finland. Slovakia took home silver while the Czech Republic scored the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Finland.
Hockey's Future spoke with some of the players taking part in these two games following those matches, with those interviews being presented below.
BRONZE MEDAL GAME
Czech Republic 3 vs Finland 2
This game featured two very evenly matched teams who had both lost very emotional games the day before. Although Finland managed to tie the game at one three-and-a-half minutes before the end of the first period, the Czechs scored two more goals before the first intermission. David Krejci’s tally with only 53 seconds in the first proved to be the game-winner. Finland put on the pressure in the third and set the scene for an exciting conclusion to the game when Jussi Jokinen scored a power play goal to cut the Czech lead to 3-2, but couldn’t manage to tie the game up.
For the Czech Republic, it was a repeat of last year’s bronze medal and ensured that a Slavic nation would be winning all three of the medals at this year’s tournament.
Anssi Salmela, Defenseman, Finland
HF: Obviously a very difficult loss today, but how much more disappointing is it for you to come back after a three game suspension and get in the line-up for the first time in the playoffs?
AS: It wasn’t easy to watch from the outside and then first get into a game at this point. The game was a hard one for the whole team. It was so disappointing.
HF: Did you and your teammates feel you could still turn this thing around?
AS: Of course. We had a better second period and then we came even harder in the third period. That’s how we played and we got better and better, but it just wasn’t enough.
HF: Looking towards the future, is it any consolation that the WCs will be here in Finland again next year?
AS: This game today, getting the bronze medal, would have really been the best to end this season. It would have been great for the whole country, but we’ll get tougher for next year’s tournament and I’m sure the program will tweak things it learned from this year’s tournament.
HF: You’ve recently played NHL hockey. What’s on tap for you next season?
AS: I still have one year on my contract with Avangard Omsk. At this point, I’ll be returning there.
Michael Frolik, Forward, Team Czech Republic
HF: So you must be feeling a lot better now than you were at this time yesterday?
MF: I’d say so. There was a lot on the line tonight. It was a real tough loss yesterday and we were so close and we could have won the game against Slovakia. We didn’t and the whole team was so disappointed after the game. So it wasn’t easy to prepare for this game, but we did it and we did it good. We had a good preparation and we forgot about what happened yesterday and concentrated on the here and now. We won the game and that’s how you want to end every season, with a win.
HF: Are you happy with your tournament in general and the team the Czechs were able to put together?
MF: Uh, well you know, I thought it was fine, but I didn’t score enough, but the team was great. We have a great group and great group of guys. Things went smooth and now we’ve had a big win, a medal no less, and I’m proud of that.
HF: I bet you are. Now you’ve been in the NHL a few years yourself, but is it still a thrill to play with some of the bigger names from your country like Plekanec, Hemsky and Michalek?
MF: Oh of course. I’m still young and there’s much I still want to learn. It’s such an honor to play with those guys who, like you said, are such big names in the NHL. It’s nice to be in the same room with them and at practice and on the same team. It’s a big experience for me.
HF: Did you like the new format here at the WC?
MF: Well, it’s a bit different from last year. I didn’t play here that much because I came later, but it is what it is and we can’t really do anything about it. The question is, is it good for the fans? If they go to the games, then fine. Personally I think it would be a little bit better with fewer games.
Niko Kapanen, Forward, Team Finland
Media Scrum: You really sound disappointed about how this tournament ended up, although you were still the fourth-best team out of 16.
NK: Well of course. That’s not what we came here for. We felt we could get to the final and wanted to repeat, but that didn’t happen. So then we wanted to win a medal instead today and couldn’t do that either. So the goal wasn’t achieved.
Tomas Mojzis, Defenseman, Team Czech Republic
Media Scrum: You did all your attacking in the first period. No goals after that. Did you worry about that backfiring?
TM: Well, I don’t really think they controlled much at the beginning. Sure, they tied up our first goal really quickly, then we took a three to one lead by the end of the first. We then became defensively-oriented. They controlled the back more, but at the end of the day, we were lucky that they didn’t put in any more goals.
MS: Well how much does this medal mean to you guys?
TM: I still can’t really get over the loss to Slovakia, so it’s hard to say right now. I’m sure I’ll be proud when some time has gone by and we’ve been able to process everything that has happened the past 20 hours.
Tuomas Kiiskinen, Forward, Team Finland
The 5’9”, 172 pound, 26-year-old forward has spent the past five seasons putting up between 38-47 points in less than 60 games per season for his KalPa Kuopia team in the Finnish SM-Liiga. This year he got asked to represent his country at the international level. Playing his first World Championship tournament, he was thrilled to talk about his experience, despite the heavy loss in the bronze medal game.
HF: This loss today must be very disappointing. Did you guys think you could still turn this thing around today when Jussi Jokinen scored that goal with ten minutes to go to get you within one?
TK: Yep, absolutely. Even as it was 3-1, I had that feeling that we would come back and get those two goals we needed. When Jussi scored that second goal, our hopes were really up, but it just wasn’t enough.
HF: Are you happy that Finland will be hosting the tournament for the preliminary round again next year?
TK: Of course, we’ll have some big matches again and that home crowd to support us, but we had a chance to win this year. That’s gone forever now. It won’t be the same team coming back next year.
HF: That’s true. Now this was your first time representing your country in this tournament. How was it for you as an overall experience?
TK: Yep, it was real special. The experience was nice and I loved having the home crowd every night. That was a real plus.
HF: Were you happy with your performance here?
TK: It was OK. The first few games, I felt I had a lot of energy. I could really contribute, but the last few games we lost, so I’m not real happy with the way things have gone the past few days.
HF: Is it special for you to get to play with the likes of Mikko Koivu and Valterri Filppula?
TK: Definitely! They are real big icons in Finland. Of course it’s nice to play with those guys. Just seeing how both play and how they read and see the game.
HF: So you can definitely learn from them?
TK: Yah, of course! I can learn from a lot of the guys here.
HF: Where are you going to play next season?
TK: I’m going to play in a new KHL team called Dombass Donetsk.
Tomas Plekanec, Forward, Czech Republic
Media Scrum: There are many saying there are perhaps too many games with this modus. How do you see that?
TP: Possibly, yep, I think so. It could be better with just half the games or so. But that’s not up to me or anyone else suiting up for the games. I can’t decide what’s the best way to run this tournament.
MS: Do you need some time off after the grind of an NHL season and now this tournament?
TP: Yes, for sure. I will take some time off and then get ready for next season.
MS: Are you optimistic about next season with the Habs?
TP: We’ll see. We’re at the beginning of some changes that are definitely going to take place. The summer is still long and we’ll just have to see what happens and what direction management goes in.
MS: When you have the type of season like the one you guys had in Montreal, is it a real relief or a confirmation of sorts to come here and win a medal in order to feel like something positive was accomplished?
TP: Well you know, if you decide to come to the World Championships to play for your country, that’s what you come here for. You come to win a medal. You’re obviously hoping and shooting for gold, but we got a bronze and that’s something to be proud of. It’s definitely some kind of accomplishment for sure.
David Krejci, Forward, Czech Republic
HF: You must be feeling a lot better now than at this time yesterday, eh?
DK: Last night’s game was tough to swallow. I had a hard time going to bed and getting ready for today’s game. You know, I think as a team we did a really good job of regrouping and found a way as a team to get this bronze medal today.
HF: I’m sure you’re very proud of that medal, but you’ve got to feel relieved that this long season and WC is finally over.
DK: We won the Stanley Cup last year and then this season was a tough season with lots of ups and downs. We couldn’t win again. Now I’m going to have three months to regroup and get ready for next season. You know, I need the rest. I need it a lot and I think I deserve it after the past few seasons.
MS: Seeing how this tournament is structured and the way things are, how difficult is it to come away with any medal at all?
DK: Many teams could have been in this position, but this is a tournament of only one game. You know, if you look at it in a North American way, Sweden may have beaten us in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series, but we beat them in the one game in the playoffs and we advanced to the next round. Same thing with Slovakia versus Canada or even Slovakia versus us yesterday: There are many teams that could have been here tonight or who could have played in the final. But we ended up being here.
HF: Yesterday you went up against your Boston captain Zdeno Chara. We know he’s the ultimate warrior, but what is that kind of thing like for you when you spend all year together and then you show up at these international events and battle each other?
DK: It’s definitely different. We’ve been playing together for over five years now. We won the cup together. We’re real good friends. I played against him a couple of years ago in Vancouver, so it wasn’t new to me, but you play against your captain and I know him, he knows me, but it was a good battle and they won. They won and they deserved it.
GOLD MEDAL GAME
Russia 6 vs Slovakia 2
This battle was one thought by most to be a case of David versus Goliath and indeed it was, but David did not come out the victor. Despite two memorable goals from Zdeno Chara, Team Russia overran Team Slovakia to the tune of six goals, with NHL stars Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin combining for four goals and five assists. For Team Russia, it was their third gold medal at the World Championships in the past five years. They won in convincing style having beaten Norway 5-2, Finland 6-2 and now Slovakia 6-2 on their way to gold. Their path did not however cross those of Canada and the USA, who both surprisingly lost in the quarterfinals after a highly successful preliminary round.
For Slovakia, it was their first medal whatsoever since gaining bronze in 2003 and gold in 2002, ironically against Russia. But the silver medal was extremely meaningful for the country of just under 5.5 million inhabitants. On his way to accepting the award for the silver medalist, Captain Zdeno Chara donned a jersey with the number 38 and the name ‘Demitra’ on the back in honor of former Team Slovakia captain and NHL player Pavol Demitra, who tragically passed away in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, which occurred September 7th, 2011. There was no dampening the team’s spirit and realization that it came a long way in getting to the gold medal game.
Alexander Semin, Forward, Team Russia
Media Scrum: What makes this Russian team so strong?
AS: We have a wonderful coach who knows how to put players in a position to succeed. He lets everyone play and use their respective skills.
MS: What did you think of your opponent today?
AS: They certainly got off to a good start. They played hard and tried.
MS: What do you say to the huge pro-Russia support you had today here in Helsinki from just about a sold out Hartwell Arena?
AS: I want to thank everybody right now for their huge and excellent support.
Rene Vydareny, Defenseman, Team Slovakia
HF: A difficult contest tonight against an absolutely star-studded Team Russia. You came out tonight and gave it your all. How important is this silver medal for you and your country?
RV: The experience and the medal are amazing. First thing though is that we lost the game and that just doesn’t sit well at the moment. We’re so proud of what we did here, but we wanted to go all the way. We were so close and this will weigh heavy through the night, for sure.
HF: How emotional was it for you to see your captain go up and grab that award with Pavol Demitra’s jersey on?
RV: Oh that was emotional for everybody. I was in Prague at the time when I heard about the plane crash and I knew a number of the players on that plane. It was a difficult situation that touched people all over the hockey world. You think sometimes that you’re over it, but when you come to the rink and play for the national team and we keep his memory and see people wearing his jersey, it’s very hard. I think this gesture today just helped with the healing process and I think Pavol is out there and has been watching over us throughout this championship.
HF: So it’s safe to say that you’re happy with the tournament Team Slovakia has had?
RV: I would say so. Before the championship, we played eight games and lost seven of them. It wasn’t easy, but the coach always stayed positive and came to us and said, “You guys played well and if we stick to the plan, your time is going to come.” With every game we got better and better.
HF: So he was building you guys up?
RV: Exactly, and with every opportunity. And now we’re silver medalists.