Ice hockey, arguably, is one of the other religions in what is now Russia, even when it was known until the early 1990s as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR there was only one God there, the Soviets.
The sport, apparently, was not obliterated by Lenin or Stalin, with the USSR capturing an unbelievable gold medal haul of eight in the Winter Olympics under the communist party, staunch believer that “religion is the opiate of society.”
As the so-called Unified Team, not “Russia,” as billed by the gods of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it gave the “country” its last ice hockey championship in Albertville (France) in 1992 only just a few weeks after the USSR disintegrated.
The drought has not stopped the grandsons and granddaughters of the October 1917 revolution from perfecting the game, with the best of the best of them making it to the National Hockey League in the United States that also arguably is the top professional league of its kind in the world.
Hockey, of course, would never make it even as an optional spectator sport if basketball mysteriously went away in this Lebron James-obsessed tropical country.
This corner, however, believes that the game is as adrenaline-charged as football, which in a way resembles ice hockey in that the latter is also played with goals on opposites sides of the rink, only smaller and dwarfed by Goliath-sized goalkeepers.
The idea is for a member of a team to drive the puck–a rubber disc used as a ball–past the goal of the rival team over four regulation quarters.
Play goes into overtime (20 minutes) if neither side scores and if the two teams are still scoreless after 1,200 seconds, they settle the game via a penalty shootout, just like in football.
What to us would make the game probably send you to the edge of your seat is the sight of generally young, very tall and burly men are trying to smash the woefully tiny puck into the back of the net of their opponents’ goal.
On television, you could hardly see the disc, much less because the ice makes it hardly visible as it gets whacked this way and that with a hockey stick by players also generally are more than six feet tall with hefts to match.
In the titular ice hockey match in the just concluded PyeongChang Games between the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” or OAR, we personally only got to see how and when the winning goal in overtime play was scored by the Russians in replays on YouTube.
The match was a cliffhanger, to say the least, but it drove home the fact that the Russians–whether representing the USSR, Unified Team, “Russian Federation,” Russia or “Olympic Athletes from Russia”–are a world power in the sport.
“OAR” had been attached to the uniforms of the eventual winners in place of “Russia” as punishment for their country’s “organized” doping in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
Whatever, the “OAR” athletes, banned from singing their national anthem, cannot be stopped from singing it–under pain of another punishment–during the awarding ceremonies where they were honored as Olympic champions (again, after 26 years).
At this writing, the IOC has not announced any new sanction against the Russian ice hockey players-turned-impromptu singers, unless of course the IOC overlords suddenly decide that singing is a crime.
The presumption is that the other gold medal-winning countries in South Korea, as well as the also-rans, are clean (“drug-free”) as a whistle.
Or it’s simply that they can’t really carry a tune if their lives depended on it.
See you in China in 2022.