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Russian sports minister rules out political connotation in US-Russia hockey semifinal

May 15, 2015, 21:29 UTC+3 PRAGUE

Reigning world champions Russia barged into the semifinals of the 2015 Ice Hockey World Championship following their 5-3 victory against long-time rivals Sweden

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© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

PRAGUE, May 15. /TASS/. Politics should be set aside from sports and there will be no political connotation in the 2015 Ice Hockey World Championship’s semifinal match on Saturday between the Russian and American teams, Russia Sports Minister Vialy Mutko said on Friday.

"I do understand that many already dream about [Russia’s final] match against Canada," Mutko said. "But we should not hurry and should proceed step by step. Tomorrow we are playing against the United States. Everything is possible in the sport of ice hockey, but there is definitely no political connotation to the match."

Reigning world champions Russia barged into the semifinals of the 2015 Ice Hockey World Championship in the Czech Republic following their 5-3 victory against long-time rivals Sweden on Thursday night. Earlier in the day the United States cleared the quarterfinals stage by cruising past Switzerland with 3-1 victory. Their victories squared them off in the match on Saturday for the spot in the title game the following day.

"Everyone in the Czech Republic were standing on their feet watching their national team’s [quarterfinal] match against Finland," Mutko said. "If one lives in an ice hockey country then any match gets of the national team close attention."

Championship’s hosts Czech Republic knocked out Finland from the race for the world champion’s title inflicting the 5-3 defeat on them in the last quarterfinal encounter on Thursday. The Czechs will meet in their semifinal match on Saturday with reigning Olympic champions Canada, which breezed past by Belarus 9-0 continuing their winning streak at the championship.

"We will be battling the Americans for the spot in the final. Of course we are holding a grudge against them in a sense of sports, because we were defeated by them earlier in the group stage," Mutko added.

Russia and the United States already met on the sidelines of this year’s championship within their Group B qualifiers on May 4, when the US team inflicted 4-2 defeat on the Russian squad.

The Russian team was reinforced on Friday before its semifinal clash with the team USA after NHL Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin arrived in Prague top join the national squad.

Upon his arrival Ovechkin said he was "in good spirits" despite his club’s 1-2 loss in overtime on Wednesday night in the 7th match of the US league’s second round of playoff series against New York Rangers.

Mutko told TASS that the 29-year-old forward, who was named the best scorer of the 2014/2015 NHL regular season and led Russia last year to the world championship’s title in Belarus, could help Russians defending their world champion’s title.

"He will be very useful for our team," Mutko said. "Yes, he'll have to acclimatise but I think that he can help the Russian squad."

"Our team is among the [championship's] favourites," the minister said also praising the Canadian, US and Czech squads.

"The semifinals will be no easy ride," he added.

To the delight of Russian hockey fans, the national squad changed beyond recognition after Znarok teamed up with the squad last year leading it to the champion’s title at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Belarus.

Russian world champion’s title followed disappointing performance at 2013 World Championship, when it was knocked out from the quarterfinals after being creamed 3-8 by the United States.

Another disappointing performance followed at 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia’s resort city of Sochi, where the Russian squad failed once more to clear the quarterfinals stage losing on its home ice 1-3 to Finland.

Russia’s most recent titles of world champions were conquered in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014. The 2008 title was a real treat for Russian hockey fans as it came to the team after a 15-year drought. That title Russia snatched from Canada, which was hosting the World Championship for the first time in its history, with 5-4 victory in overtime.

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