SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Icy stares, bone-crunching checks, even a skirmish or two in front of the net.
The matchup between the United States and Russia on Saturday may have lacked the political tension that engulfed the game in 1980, but the Sochi version was still teeming with intensity on the ice.
Just a few minutes into the first period, Americans Ryan Callahan and David Backes tussled with Russians Evgeni Medvedev and Alexander Syomin in front of the net, with a glove blow from Backes knocking Syomin’s helmet off.
American Dustin Brown leveled Evgeni Malkin with a check in the Russian zone and Max Pacioretty tussled with Slava Voynov and American Ryan Kesler stared down the Russian bench as the first period came to a close.
There was more of the same in the second, with Backes and Fedor Tyutin earning matching penalties for cross-checking after they skated from one end of the rink to the other exchanging blows the whole way. Trash talk came after every whistle, and millionaire NHL players didn’t hesitate to lay their bodies in front of high-powered slapshots to take one for their team.
In the stands, the atmosphere was more festive than hostile, a celebration of hockey at the highest level.
Russian fans overwhelmingly out-numbered the Americans, who were drowned out by whistles on the few occasions they tried to start a chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
It may not be the rivalry it once was. But make no mistake: It remains a rivalry in every sense of the word.
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