Penguins center Evgeni Malkin
has endeared himself to fans with his fun and lighthearted presence on social medium Twitter (@malkin71_).
|Malkin at the 2005 World Junior Championships (Getty Images) |
And on Tuesday night, he drew the attention of his nearly 109,000 followers when he began playfully chirping teammate James Neal
That was because bragging rights were on the line as Malkin’s Team Russia was facing Neal’s Team Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 World Junior Championships in Calgary, Alberta.
Last year, the Russians scored five third-period goals en route to a 5-3 win over Canada in the gold-medal match, which prompted Malkin to begin voicing his support for his country – and dislike for their opponent – before the game even began.
And as if the stakes weren’t already high enough, this year’s game turned out to be just as wild of a ride as Russia built a 6-1 lead 7:54 into the third period – only to have Canada storm back to make it a 6-5 game.
“It was a crazy game,” Neal said, who won a gold medal at the tournament in 2007. “I thought I had (Malkin) when (Brett) Connolly scored (for Canada) to make it 2-1. I tweeted ‘Here they come,’ and that backfired fast and hard on me because then it became 6-1. Canada made a good run back. But a little fun back and forth.”
Russia ended up squeaking out the victory – ending Canada’s streak of nine consecutive championship appearances – and awarding Malkin those aforementioned bragging rights, starting immediately after the game when he called out some of his Canadian teammates, including Neal, Sidney Crosby
, Marc-Andre Fleury
, Jordan Staal
and Arron Asham
“He’s been a little annoying,” Staal joked of Malkin, who sits next to him in the locker room. “It’s obviously well-deserved the way they played, but you never want to lose to Russia – especially when you’ve got this loudmouth beside me.”
Fleury, who won a pair of silver medals at the 2003 and 2004 World Junior Championships, is famous for his chatter during practice shootouts. So for him, it was a bit odd to be on the receiving end of the chirping.
|Neal after the 2007 World Junior Championships (Getty Images) |
“Right away when I walked in,” he grinned when asked if he’d heard from Malkin yet. “But they came close, though. It was a close game.”
Even with their team falling into a seemingly insurmountable five-goal deficit, the Canadian Penguins refused to believe their boys were down and out.
“I kept the TV on and kept watching the game, because I know in that tournament and being a part of it when I played, anything can happen,” Neal said. “Just goes to show you that if you stick around, you can score goals. It was fun to watch.”
Added Staal, “Actually, I felt like I was a good luck charm when I turned it on, it was 6-1 and that’s when they started coming back. I was really hoping that Canada would pull it off, but it was an exciting game. I was right on the edge of my couch the whole time.”
Neal was hoping the tables would turn on his Russian linemate, but that didn’t prove to be the case. But regardless, Neal knows Malkin got a little nervous as the Canadians rallied.
“He was eating his words there,” Neal said. “I guess he’s lucky on that one.”
And Malkin, who played in three straight World Junior Championships from 2004-06, admitted to jumping the gun.
“I made a big mistake. I tweeted a little bit early,” he joked to NHL Live. “But I believe in my national team. They won. It’s good for the whole country.”
Russia ended up losing to Sweden in overtime, 1-0, in the gold medal match on Thursday while Canada blanked Finland, 4-0, to earn bronze. And the players hope that games like Tuesday’s continue to raise the profile of the tournament, which featured three Penguins prospects (Scott Harrington
, Canada; Josh Archibald
, United States; and Dominik Uher
, Czech Republic) and four local products, here in the U.S.
“It’s great hockey,” Fleury said. “It’s guys that will be in the NHL pretty soon. So it’s fun to watch them go and to see countries against countries a little bit.”