BERNE – The New York Rangers and Metallurg Magnitogorsk players have found themselves in an interesting position. Ever since the Rangers arrived in Europe last weekend, the players have been fielding questions about the Victoria Cup, its significance and whether they feel pressure for defending the NHL’s honour in a match-up against a Russian team. And so have the Metallurg players.
The fact that the last time, 17 years ago, an NHL team played against a team from Russia, the country was still called the Soviet Union, says is all. Tonight’s game is a historic event.
The speculations about the outcome of the game are ongoing, and varied.
For the players, in the middle of it all, it all comes down to one thing. A hockey game. And as you know, anything can happen in a hockey game.
“I don’t think that the Victoria Cup is a political event, it's just sports where each side is trying to be the best. It's going to be a good show for the fans,” says Ravil Gusmanov, Magnitogorsk forward.
“We’ve won many big titles and trophies in Europe in the past 10 years, and we’ve been working hard this summer to be ready for another international challenge. We have a very good team, and I hope we’ll win again,” says the veteran with 11 seasons with the team.
The Victoria Cup, and the chance to claim a prestigious scalp, is enough to motivate the players, says Metallurg’s Czech defenceman Karel Pilar.
“When you meet such a good opponent, you are likely to raise the level of your game, and show your best. We’ll try to hold on to the puck as long as possible – that’s our game - and that will make our chances better,” he says.
At Tuesday’s games post-game press conference, SC Bern’s coach John van Boxmeer got a question from a despaired Swiss journalist about the gap between the NHL and the Swiss league.
“Tonight, the NHL showed why it’s the best league in the world,” he said.
Metallurg’s goalie, Andrei Mezin, an experienced goalie at the international level, is more cautious.
“It's not correct to compare the leagues – KHL and NHL – at the moment. In North America, hockey is a big business. Ours is a very young league, we have to pay attention to a great amount of details that will improve the KHL. We shouldn't oppose the two leagues, both are good in their own way,” he says.
“Games like this should be held regularly, I think. And it'll be great to play a whole series against the NHL,” the Belarusian national team goalie adds.
Just like in the old times?
“The Soviet teams that played against the NHL opponents in the past, looked a lot like national teams – they had the best players collected from all over the country. Now the situation is different, and it'll be very interesting for us to try ourselves,” says Mezin.
We’ll all be much wiser tonight.