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One final, two winners

Fans celebrate their heroes in Moscow – and Bratislava

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Russian and Slovak fans celebrate their heroes, left at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, right in downtown Bratislava. Photos: Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti, Tomas Benedikovic / isifa / SME / Getty Images

ZURICH – The gold medal game of the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship had two winners. What might normally sound like a flowery phrase resulted in celebrations in both Russia and Slovakia on Monday.

The result was very clear on Sunday evening at Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena: 6-2. There was no arguing about who deserved the gold medals more, about goals, hits or calls. Russia dominated the event from the first puck drop in Stockholm until the celebrations in Helsinki.

The Russian team celebrated the world title on Sunday night in the dressing room “like a Brazilian carnival”, reported Sovietski Sport.

Sport-Express compared the team to Germany in football. “Probably the Soviet national team in the era of Viktor Tikhonov played more brilliantly, but this team played more properly organized than ever before. It was machine-like with a pedantic coach doing the right setup.”

At the same time Russia won gold, fans celebrated at the Tverskaya street in downtown Moscow and drove through the streets with flag-decorated cars. And the ones who had the chance to be in Helsinki celebrated in the centre of the Finnish capital that was draped in blue-white-red by many Russian and Slovak fans.

President Vladimir Putin called coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov after the game. “We are proud of you. Now all Moscow is awake enjoying the gold medal,” Putin said according to Bilyaletdinov.

Already the same night the team flew back to Russia. It took some time until the plane could leave for undisclosed reasons, but fans drove to the Sheremetyevo Airport early to wait patiently and welcome their heroes with “Rossiya chempion!” chants and singing the national anthem.

At 8:03am the airport finally announced the good news that the charter flight 9606 had landed. The players hugged their beloved ones before signing autographs, posing for photos with fans and talking to reporters with more than ten camera teams in attendance.

Putin also invited Bilyletdinov to his office on Monday to congratulate the first-year national team coach and the entire team.

“You gave us a magnificent victory that has made the whole country very happy,” Putin said according to the official protocol. “It was not even so much the team’s play we watched with such pleasure as the battle they fought to clinch the champion’s title. I am sure that many people appreciated the skill and spirit that our players showed.

“It’s wonderful that it all worked out. I cannot remember an occasion when a championship has gone so well, without a single glitch, not one, and not just winning the games, but winning with very good results. They really worked like a well-oiled machine,” Putin said.

“The team did indeed show its spirit and showed that it really is a team,” replied Bilyaletdinov. “The players gave the best and took each game seriously. There were no ‘easy games’ – they gave it all on every occasion. I thanked them and passed on your congratulations.”

Sports Minister Vitali Mutko announced that the 17 players who became world champion for the first time will receive the “Merited Master of Sport” rank.

Silver heroes parade through Bratislava

What comes more as a surprise than the celebrations and honouring in Moscow happened in Bratislava. When was the last time a hockey team was welcomed like world champions after taking home the silver medals?

That’s exactly what happened on Monday when the Slovak national team arrived home to hoist the commemorative plate for the silver-medal win and the medals around their neck at the Slovak National Uprising Square (Námestie Slovenského národného povstania) in front of tens of thousands of fans.

Their charter plane landed in Bratislava at 13:53 where hundred fans were already waiting, but the big party followed in a parade through the city centre.

If you can’t believe it, check out this video. It’s from 2012, not 2002 when the Slovaks won their first and so far only world title.

Also the TV ratings were impressive. 1.788 million Slovaks watched the gold medal game on STV, which represented a market share of 72.7% and the second-highest TV rating ever in Slovakia.

“It’s like a dream. Fans appreciated how much we have done to win these medals,” captain Zdeno Chara told SITA. “We had to battle really hard to get to the final. We’re pleased that we made so many people happy.”

It was the biggest guy got the biggest applause from the crowd.

Miroslav Satan was happy to share the great performance with the fans ten years after winning the World Championship. “You can see in the faces of the people how happy they are,” Satan said. “It’s great that hockey is a phenomenon that links the Slovaks together.”

Yaroslavl victims commemorated on both sides

Winning the 2012 medals was not only a time of celebrations, but also of commemoration. When asked about to whom the victory was dedicated to, coach Bilyaletdinov and his players replied the victims of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl airplane crash last autumn. And Slovak captain Zdeno Chara wore a jersey backwards at the prize ceremony with Pavol Demitra’s name and number 38. Demitra was one of the players who died in the tragedy.

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