After ending a 15-year gold medal drought at the ice hockey world championship at the weekend, the next target on Russia's radar is the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
|Russia are already planning ways to |
keep the gold flowing [AFP]
Russia's thrilling 5-4 overtime win over Canada in Sunday's final offered as much relief as excitement in Moscow.
More significantly, it signalled a long-awaited renaissance of Russian hockey and a possible return to the glory days of the Soviet Union when the Big Red Machine ruled supreme over the sport.
"Huge," said Ilya Kovalchuk, describing the win he fashioned by scoring the tying goal late in the third period followed by the game winner 2:14 into overtime.
"It's huge for our preparation for everything, for all the kids we have started building a lot of rinks (for).
"They want to improve the game, they want to win.
"Now they want to practise harder to maybe be one day on the national team."
In the 15 years between world championship titles, Russia had made only one other appearance in the final, losing to Slovakia in 2002.
While there is still much work to be done, Russian hockey finally appears to be back on track.
Leading the revival are outstanding former Soviet team members Slava Fetisov, now the Russian Minister of Sport, and goaltending great Vladislav Tretiak, who has taken control of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.
Both men, who were named to the International Ice Hockey Federation's team of the century last Saturday, have made restoring Russian hockey a top priority.
During the championship, the two men made claims that 300 to 600 new rinks were being built in Russia to develop the grass roots of the sport that had been neglected in recent years.
The revival has been helped along by the considerable financial muscle of oil billionaire and hockey enthusiast Alexander Medvedev, who is backing a new Russian Super League.
|Russian hockey fans enjoy a |
golden moment [AFP]
The new league's top priority is to keep the best young Russians playing at home but could also provide competition for NHL talent.
U.S. netminder Robert Esche told reporters he has already agreed to a contract to play in Russia next season for $1.8 million.
These developments are sure to have an impact on the 2010 Olympics and, looking further ahead, the 2014 Winter Games in the Russian city of Sochi.
Most of the 16 countries that competed at the world championship in Canada did so with one eye on Vancouver.
There was more than a silver lining to Canada's second place finish, the hosts securing the top seeding for the 2010 Olympic tournament by reaching the final.
"We all know the Olympics are the measuring stick," said Team Canada coach Ken Hitchcock.
"If you're talking about world power, if you're talking about supremacy in hockey, you talk about the Olympics."