Swedes no strangers to facing down Team Canada
SOCHI, Russia - Par Marts was an assistant coach in 1994 when Peter Forsberg's shootout goal earned the Swedes gold in a memorable Olympic hockey final.
Marts, now Swedish head coach, says the memory of Lillehammer is long gone 20 years later as Sweden prepares to face Canada for the Olympic men's title.
"No, I've forgotten it," the 60-year-old coach said after practice Saturday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. "Of course, I remember it but I'm a dreamer. I'm looking more ahead and looking for dreams than talking old memories. I don't like that. I don't even know who we played in that Olympics. I'm not interested in this."
Swedish forward Gabriel Landeskog was just 15 months old when a 20-year-old Forsberg beat goalie Corey Hirsch with a sliding one-handed backhand under the glove in the seventh round of the shootout —a slick move inspired by fellow Swede Kent Nilsson, who used it at the 1989 world championships.
A 19-year-old Paul Kariya then failed to beat Swedish goalie Tommy Salo. Sweden won the shootout 3-2 after a 2-2 tie following overtime.
Daniel Alfredsson remembers all too well, still marvelling at the deke by defenceman Magnus Svensson — "fake shot, deke" then goal.
"I was at home with my parents watching on the couch," said the 41-year-old forward. "It was a very proud moment in Sweden."
The Swedes can do it again Sunday in a battle of unbeaten teams. The winner will become the first undefeated Olympic men's hockey champion since the Soviet Union in 1984 at Sarajevo.
So far, Sweden has beaten the Czech Republic 4-2, Switzerland 1-0, Latvia 5-3, Slovenia 5-0 and Finland 2-1.
"I hope we saved the best for last here," said goalie Henrik Lundqvist. "Because we're playing a really good team."
Canada has defeated Norway 3-1, Austria 6-0, Finland 2-1 in overtime, Latvia 2-1 and the U.S. 1-0.
"I think we are the two best teams in the tournament," said Marts. "I'm excited. I'm looking forward to that game (Sunday)."
Sweden (1994 and 2006) and Canada (2002 and 2010) have combined to win four of the last five Olympic hockey crowns. The Czech Republic won in 1998.
The Swedes will be no mystery to Canadian coach Mike Babcock, who has goalie Jonas Gustavsson, defencemen Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall and forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist on his Detroit Red Wings. Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg would be playing if not for a herniated disk that restricted his Olympics to one game while fellow Wing Johan Franzen was left at home due to a concussion.
"Obviously I'm a huge fan of Swedes," Babcock said dryly after Canada's 1-0 semifinal win over the U.S. "It's a beautiful country and they're good people ... I've got really good men who play on that team, who I'm huge fans of. We all know that I'd be cheering for them if they were playing against anybody but us.
"I'm excited to have an opportunity to play against them."
The Swedish roster is entirely made up of NHLers with the exception of Skelleftea AIK forward Jimmie Ericsson, who turned 24 on Saturday.
Hockey fans back home will have no difficult recognizing the names.
The Swedish lines are Boston's Loui Eriksson, Washington's Nicklas Backstrom and Vancouver's Daniel Sedin; St. Louis' Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund and Detroit's Alfredsson; Colorado's Landeskog, Washington's Marcus Johansson, and Anaheim's Jakob Silfverberg; and Detroit's Nyquist, AIK's Ericsson and New York Ranger Carl Hagelin.
Missing is injured star forward Henrik Sedin (rib).
The defensive pairings are Detroit's Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson; Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya; Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and Vancouver's Alexander Edler; and Phoenix's Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Chicago's Marcus Kruger.
They have a bona fide stopper in Lundqvist, who like Alfredsson won gold eight years ago at the Turin Games.
The New York Rangers star, who has had an up-and-down NHL season, has been more than reliable here. In five complete games, he has given up just six goals on 123 shots for a .951 save percentage. Two of those goals came on the power play.
"It's going to be a hard-fought game," Babcock predicted. "The Swedes are ego-less. They play well, they play structured. They don't give anything up for free. Their power play's very dangerous. Should be fun."
The Swedes lead the tournament with the man advantage, scoring seven goals in 19 opportunities. Karlsson has profited the most, with three goals on the power play.
On the other side, Canada has been the tournament's most efficient penalty-killers, yielding just one goal in 14 penalties. The Canadian defence has also been tight, leading the competition with just three goals on 105 shots.
The Swedes have been opportunistic in front of goal with 17 goals on 149 shots, third-best in the 12-team field. Canada has had its trouble scoring, with 14 goals on 205 shots. Only Slovakia, Norway and Switzerland had a lower conversion rate of shots on goal.
Still the Swedes have nothing but respect for the star-studded Canadians. And they know the hockey heritage in Canada.
"Everybody realizes in Sweden recognizes that Canada and hockey goes hand-in-hand," said Alfredsson, who spent 17 seasons in Ottawa before signing on in Detroit. "There's no question about that.
"Hockey is a big part of Swedish sport as well, but not to the same extent. Soccer is probably ahead if you do a poll. I don't know if there is a second in Canada."
Designated the home team, Sweden will have the last line change.
"I think the Canadian team matches that stuff more than we do," said Marts. "I'm not sure if that is good because you have to let your own good players play after our schedule and not after the other team's schedule.
"But of course, it's good to have it."
Sunday's officials are all NHL veterans. The referees are Ohio-born, Saskatchewan-raised Brad Meier, who has Canadian and U.S. citizenship, and Canadian Kelly Sutherland. The linesmen are Canadians Derek Amell and Greg Devorski.
Asked about have a Canadian ref, Marts said: "I don't care. I hope they do that job, that's all. I can't focus on thing I can't change. No problem with that."
Meier drew ire from Russian fans after a disallowed goal by Fedor Tyutin in Russia’s 3-2 shootout loss to the U.S. in the preliminary round.
NOTES — Sweden is bidding to become the first reigning world champion to win the Olympics since the Soviet Union did it 30 years ago at Sarajevo ... Canada has not won the Olympic gold outside of the Americas since it won the 1952 competition in Oslo ... In its last six trips to the Olympics, the Swedish hockey team has either finished fifth or won the tournament ... If the final ends in a tie, there will a 20-minute sudden-death overtime followed by a shootout if necessary.
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