Cold War on Ice - The Red Machine vs. the Esprit de Corps Commandos
By Jason McNaught/Photo by Robert Badali - Esprit de Corps
As fans piled into the St. Laurent complex for the friendly game between the Esprit de Corps Commandos and the Russian Embassy Red Machine on the evening of April 4, rumours were rampant that the Russians had brought in a ringer.
The look on the Commandos’ faces was a mix of shock and disbelief when Assistant Captain Scott Taylor announced to his team that former Ottawa Senator and NHL all-star Alexei Yashin had just walked past him en route to the Russian locker room.
But when the sound of the Russian hockey song, “No coward plays hockey” filled the arena, and the Red Machine took to the ice for their warm-up, there was no mistaking the big man in the yellow socks. Yashin was there.
The jubilant Russian fans, many with their faces painted in their national colours, cheered from behind the glass enthusiastically. Then the unmistakable lead guitar from the AC/DC’s Thunderstruck shook the building. It was Commando time.
When the warm-up was over, both teams skated to their respective bluelines and stood shoulder-to-shoulder as the Russian and the Canadian anthems were played. Following the anthems and a gift exchange, helmets were donned, sticks slapped the ice. The Esprit de Corps Commandos and the Russian Embassy Red Machine were ready for battle.
After the puck drop, both teams rallied back and forth in an even match before an early breakaway goal by Chris Pulfer, off the backhand, put the Commandos ahead 1-0. But the lead wouldn’t last long. The Russians came on strong, buoyed by the leadership of Yashin dictating the play from the blueline as the Commandos began piling up in the penalty box.
With 4:10 left on the clock in the 1st period, Yashin came in from the point, pirouetted around the Commandos like the lead dancer in the Bolshoi ballet, and put one in the lower corner after bamboozling Aleks Robertson, the Canadian goaltender.
The Commandos came back, pouring on the offensive power, while the Russian goalie (a French Canadian) fended off attacks from all sides until Commando team captain TonyYoung found a hole, giving the Canadian squad a 1 goal lead with just 3:24 remaining.
The Red Machine fought back hard to tie it up in the dying minutes of the first, but couldn’t muster the offense as a desperate Commando contingent chipped and whacked their way to the buzzer to end the period up 2-1.
After the break, the Russians turned up the heat on the Commandos, coming on strong with a chance on net right after the face off. Goaltender Robertson, scrambled from post to post as the Red Machine peppered him with shots from all angles. A melee in front of the net finally busted down the front door, sending the Russian fans into a frenzy. Tie game.
Quick feet and fancy passing didn’t help the Commandos at 15:30 in the 2nd, as the Russian goalie slid over to mount a highlight reel, two-pad stack against a determined Canadian drive to the net. Coming back to the other end, the Russian defence switched to attack mode and forced Roberton’s surrender at 13:26, making the score 3-2 Red Machine.
Yashin’s expert play elevated the threat against the Commandos to DEFCON 1 throughout the second period, but the Commando’s briefly found themselves on the offensive in the middle of the second after the Red Machine began occupying the penalty box en masse. Defenceman Devin Dreeshen came into Russian territory like an exocet missile, but deked himself off the puck, veered off course and came in hot to make contact with the Russian goalie, taking the net with him.
The Red Machine, back at full strength, capitalized on a tired looking Commando squad and blasted a strong, low shot from the top of the circle to increase their lead to two goals.
Things don’t look good for the Commando’s, but after some soul searching on the bench, the troops dug deep and Taylor came out swinging, wristing a high shot on the right side before the Russian gate-keeper gloved it down. Second period ended in the Red Machine’s favour, 4-2.
The Red Machine was relentless at the beginning of the 3rd, until the Commandos gritty play forced a checking penalty and the Russian Machine was once again forced to operate without all of its parts. Capitalizing on the sputtering Machine, the Canadians blasted a shot from the left circle which popped off the pads of the Russian netminder and onto the stick of Taylor, who raised the flag for the Commandos with a beautiful backhand goal. He then circled the rink riding his stick like a horsey in celebration at the 14 minute mark. It was 4-3 for the Red Machine, but the Canadian fans were back in the game.
With adrenaline thumping through the Commando’s veins, they found their second wind and turned the tide. Shelling the Russians round-the-clock, not even Yashin could counter their relentless offensive...then finally, after the brick wall in the Russian net begins to crumble, defenceman Darren Kudrinko rocketed a huge slapshot off the left side and found nothing but the back of the net. Commandos tie the game 4-4.
As the clock wound down in the 3rd, the Russians pulled out all the stops, and with Yashin leading the charge, attacked the Commando line. There was so much traffic in front of Robertson’s net, he considered putting up stop lights to slow the onslaught down. Then, as Yashin took off towards the Commando blueline, all eyes widened when his skates made contact with a stick, and he skidded belly down across the Commando’s blueline. Esprit de Corps’ editor emeritus, Jim Scott was deemed the culprit and he was sent off for tripping.
Suspense mounted as the game entered the dying minutes, both sides staving off impressive scoring opportunities. When Yashin took the faceoff in the final minute of play, the collective heart rate of the Commandos increased.
Soaked in Teflon, with speed to boot, Yashin dispsy-doodled around the Commandos and fired a shot destined to end the deadlock, but Roberston flashed out his glove just in time to stop the bullet. The rebound, however, was destined for Russian glory.
The Commandos pulled the goalie in the final minute, mustering up what’s left, putting it all out on the ice — and with the Russians back on their heels, up against the glass, facing puck after puck, the final buzzer rang out. A solid and well-played Russian victory.