GANGNEUNG, South Korea >> The Russians triumphed in the no-NHL tournament where they were favored, winning the men’s hockey gold medal at a Winter Olympics where they couldn’t even be called Team Russia, use their colors or celebrate while listening to their anthem.
Kirill Kaprizov scored the game-winner as “Team Olympic Athlete From Russia” came back to beat underdog Germany 4-3 in overtime Sunday in an instant classic that saved a men’s tournament lacking buzz not only in South Korea but back in North America, where the NHL season went on during the games for the first time since 1994.
It’s the first Russian gold medal in hockey since 1992 in Albertville when the team also played under a neutral flag as the Community of Independent States. Russian flags — the team barred from using them by IOC sanctions for state-sponsored doping — hung behind the bench as the team awaited their gold medals.
Constantly saying it doesn’t matter that they had to wear nondescript red and white uniforms that lacked the Russian Coat of Arms, players gave the Russians their second gold and 17th total medal of the Olympics.
This one was expected all along.
Stocked with former NHL players — Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Voynov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov — the Russians were by far the most talented team in the tournament. U.S. coach Tony Granato said they may be as good as 20 of the 31 NHL teams. The skill primarily from the Kontinental Hockey League was apparent all tournament and especially in the final against Germany, which had all of its players from leagues in its homeland.
Nikita Gusev had the go-ahead and tying goals in the third period.
Goaltender Vasily Koshechkin let in a fluke goal to Felix Schultz and was hung out to dry on Dominik Kahun’s goal that answered Gusev’s first goal 10 seconds later. Koshechkin came out to challenge when Jonas Muller slid the puck along the ice for what looked like the game-winner with 3:16 left.
A penalty to Russian forward Sergei Kalinin with 2:11 remaining threatened to end the Russians’ gold-medal bid in similar disappointment to their quarterfinal loss on home ice in Sochi four years ago.
Instead, with Koshechkin pulled for the extra attacker to make it 5-on-5, Gusev scored again to help send the game to overtime.
There, Germany goaltender Danny aus den Birken needed to make an edge-of-his-pad save on Kovalchuk all alone driving to the net to keep the game going. An ill-timed high-sticking penalty on Germany’s Patrick Reimer 9:11 into overtime put the Russians on the power play, where Kaprizov scored the winner and one of the biggest goals in Russian hockey history.
The victory on the ice came hours after the International Olympic Committee voted not to reinstate Team Russia for Sunday night’s closing ceremony.
That means the Russians will again march under the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” name and the Olympic flag. The IOC formally banned Team Russia in December over a doping scheme at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, but invited 168 athletes to compete under the OAR name, making the Russians the third-biggest delegation at the games.
Russia had to wait two weeks for its first gold in Pyeongchang before the 15-year-old figure skater Alina Zagitova won with two flawless programs.
Voynov, at the Olympics because he was banned from the NHL in 2015 for his domestic abuse conviction, cashed in on a brutal turnover by Germany’s Yasin Ehliz in the final moments of the first period. Voynov’s shot from just inside the blue line got past aus den Birken and in with just 0.5 seconds on the clock, the kind of killer goal that changes the tide of the game.
Russian goal song “Those Were The Days” blared over the Gangneung Hockey Centre speakers as fans clad in red, white and blue and holding flags celebrated. They later sang the national anthem as the medal ceremony got under way.