Winter Olympics 2014: After demanding medals, Vladimir Putin looks on as Russia are knocked out of ice hockey tournament

Ice hockey was the most prized medal in Sochi to hosts Russia

Sochi

When the clock stopped, what little colour left in Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s face disappeared. The Russia coach looked sheet white as he watched the Finns mob their goalkeeper, gorging themselves on the moment they pulled the rug from beneath Russian feet and left the hosts’ hopes piled in a heap in the middle of the Bolshoy.

Weighed on top of Russia’s stars of the ice were the dashed hopes of a nation. When the home players gathered themselves sufficiently to skate into the middle of the rink and raise their sticks in the traditional farewell they were greeted with whistles and catcalls from the supporters who remained.

“It’s just emptiness,” said Sergei Bobrovsky, the goaltender who had been hurried on to the ice in the wake of Finland’s third goal to replace the hapless and hooked Semyon Varlamov. “I just feel empty inside.”

Bobrovsky did not let another past him but at the other end Russia’s much vaunted attack was denied by his opposite number, Tuukka Rask, again and again and again. The Finnish goaltender made 37 saves and that is why his team-mates made for him at their happy ending end.

A quarter-final exit, losing 3-1 at the hands of their tiny but noisy neighbours, was not in Vladimir Putin’s script. He did not oversee the spending of $51bn (£30bn) to bring the Winter Games to his favourite holiday spot for Alexander Ovechkin and co to let him down. Bilyaletdinov has been here before; he was playing when the Soviets were shocked in the Miracle on Ice in 1980. But this was more embarrassing, a very public meltdown on ice. No wonder the colour drained from his face.

“There were great hopes placed on us and we didn’t live up to them,” said Pavel Datsyuk, one of the team’s star names who failed to deliver. Ovechkin put it more bluntly. “It sucks,” he said.

As time slipped away during the final period, Ovechkin sat on the bench, sucked in his cheeks and looked heavenwards. He needed help from somewhere because it was not happening for him out on the ice. Five players in the Russian side were given more game time against Finland than the man supposed to deliver a first ice hockey gold since the Soviet Union disappeared. He will return home to Washington DC painfully early. Ovechkin was last season’s MVP in the National Hockey League but leaves Sochi with one goal and one assist for the tournament, and none since the opening four minutes against Slovenia.

 

He was not the only failure. Evgeni Malkin, Russia’s other one-time NHL MVP, also failed to score since opening night. None though has been as humiliated as Varlamov, hauled off after his fumble laid the Finns’ third goal on a plate for Mikael Granlund.

It had begun so well, Ilya Kovalchuk’s early strike bringing the Bolshoy to its feet. Finland’s response was prompt; Juhamatti Aaltonen equalised and then Teemu Selanne, their 43-year-old captain, veteran of more than 1,400 NHL games, put them ahead. Before the end of the first period it was three thanks to Varlamov – nicknamed From Russia With Glove at his club, Colorado Avalanche – and Granlund’s finish.

Russia poured forward, launching attack after attack but they were accompanied down the ice by a growing level of desperation. It began to look as if it was every man for himself. The pool defeat by the US on Saturday meant an extra fixture against Norway on Tuesday and that took its toll, tired minds combined with tired limbs.

Afterwards, Bilyaletdinov faced the unhappy Russian media. He knew what was coming and what will come his way in the days to come.

“You’ll eat me,” he said, “and I’ll be gone.”

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes