May 17, 2008 / 9:56 PM / 10 years ago

Canada and Russia set to clash in showdown for gold

QUEBEC CITY (Reuters) - Canada, world champions a record 24 times, have the opportunity to win the title on home soil for the first time on Sunday in a showdown with arch-rivals Russia.

<p>Canada's coach Ken Hitchcock (C) directs his team during their semi-final game against Sweden at the 2008 World Hockey Championships in Quebec City, May 16, 2008. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>

The Canadians, bidding to become the first host country to claim the title since the Soviet Union in Moscow in 1986, and Russia have reached the final with unbeaten records, providing a dream matchup for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

Riding a wave of momentum that has been building since 2006, Canada have strung together 17 consecutive wins since losing to Finland in the bronze medal game two years ago.

”We have the ability to turn up the tempo when we have to,“ said Canada coach Ken Hitchcock. ”When we get pushed we respond. We have done that all tournament.

”We’ve been able to find another gear when we’ve had to.

“Whenever we get pushed we have another gear we can go to.”

A gold medal would hold no less significance for Russia, a win heralding a possible return to the glory days of the Soviet Union when the Big Red Machine ruled supreme over international hockey.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russian hockey has fallen on lean times, advancing to the gold medal game for just the second time since last winning the championship in 1993.

While Canada-Russia rivalry remains the most storied and fiercest in international hockey, Sunday’s final marks the first time since the knockout format was introduced to the world championships in 1992 that they have met in a winner-takes-all final.

The last time the two countries played for gold was at the 1992 Albertville Olympics with Russia taking a 3-1 win.

Team Canada has played the punishing, hard-hitting game that has become its trademark but has also display plenty of skill.

The hosts have the championship’s top attack, led by Dany Heatley who has a tournament best 11 goals, and one of the stingiest defenses.

There is also no shortage of skill in a Russian lineup with an offence spearheaded by NHL scoring champion and MVP nominee Alexander Ovechkin and a defense anchored by Evgeni Nabokov, a Vezina trophy finalist as the NHL’s top netminder.

Ovechkin, who has played on a line with his Washington Capitals team mates Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov, leads Russia with six goals while Nabokov has posted back-to-back shutouts going into the gold medal game.

Editing by Justin Palmer

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