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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Best Hockey Memories Aren't Always of Home

ReutersThe team's off-ice activities may have had a role in Russia's poor showing in St. Petersburg.
Seven years ago, St. Petersburg played host to the 2000 Ice Hockey World Championship.

  The Russian squad was the clear favorite, with a star-studded roster including Alexei Yashin, who had starred in the previous year's tournament, team captain Pavel Bure and teammate Viktor Kozlov.

The championship was to be Russia's triumphant return to pre-eminence in a tournament the Soviet Union had once dominated. They were playing at home, they had the fans on their side, they were staying at the best hotel, enjoying the best service and eating the best food.

Quite simply, it was theirs to lose.

But before the qualifying round had even ended, the team had been shut out 3-0 by the United States and lost in matchups against lightweights Latvia and Switzerland. It was a monumental collapse.

Cries of "Ros-sia" changed to howls of "pozor!" or "shame!" as fans turned on the team. After the 3-2 loss to Switzerland, fans littered the ice with garbage and the press ripped into the coach, former Soviet team star Alexander Yakushev.

"When will you and other Russian coaches stop packing the roster with players who were knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs and assemble a team of young and hungry homegrown players?" he was asked by a frustrated journalist.

Yakushev was also accused of lacking a solid game plan and tactical naivete.

To be sure, there were some odd decisions. Breaking up the prolific club partnership of forwards Bure and Kozlov to work Yashin in at center looked like a mistake in retrospect. Even tougher to understand was the decision to shift Maxim Sushinsky to defense after he had scored a hat trick in the opening game playing up front.

But although a number of Yakushev's decisions might have been highly questionable, the real problem had more to do with attitude and discipline. In the 3-0 loss to the United States, the Russian team was simply outworked and outsmarted. Bure, after being whistled for an early high-sticking penalty against Jeff Tancill, chased after the player to punch him in the back of the head, right in front of the referee. That moment of stupidity drew a second minor and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game.

Russian fans' ire could only have increased when it became known that the night before the game a number of players from the home team had been out until the early hours in a local watering hole. Spirits and spirit are two very different things, and it seemed clear that some players had too much of one and not enough of the other.

Heading into the tournament this year, fans will be hoping that the experience in 2000 has had a sobering effect. Although he says he has no interest in looking back, Russia coach Vyacheslav Bykov will surely be treating the events in St. Petersburg as a cautionary tale.