Ice hockey: Tradition and mystery clash in World Cup semis

Fri Sep 23, 2016 3:04pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada and Russia will renew hockey's greatest rivalry when they clash in the World Cup of Hockey semi-finals, while the other matchup features a team with no history and possibly no future when Team Europe meet Sweden.

"Canada, Russia always sounds good," said Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock, looking ahead to Saturday's showdown.

Indeed, Russia-Canada can set pulses racing and stir emotions in those hockey-mad nations that for decades have watched their teams wage war on the ice for global supremacy of the sport.

In stunning contrast to the rich tradition Russia and Canada bring, Sweden and Team Europe, a rag tag collection of players from eight countries coached by Ralph Krueger, whose day job is chairman of Premiership side Southampton FC, will be a novelty.

While Sweden, gold medal winners at the 2006 Turin Olympics and silver medalists in Sochi, boasts a quality hockey pedigree, they are matched against a gimmicky squad of smaller hockey playing nations cobbled together for this tournament.

"There has never been a team in a tournament like this with no past and no future," said Krueger. "It's a crazy situation, zero past, zero future. But I think in life and in sports, anyways, the ability to be in the now is what makes you strong and that's all we have.

"It's interesting as a coach when you have nothing to tap into in either direction."

Hockey's most storied rivalry shapes up as another classic with Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, the sport's two biggest names, leading their respective teams into battle.   Continued...

Sep 17, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock watches from the bench in the second period against Team Czech Republic during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports - RTSO7UV