Sweden, Canada meet in Olympic men’s hockey final
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Sweden and Canada are the last two Olympic champions in men’s hockey, and they’ve both gone undefeated so far in Sochi.
One team will leave the Bolshoy Ice Dome with Olympic perfection when the games wrap up with the gold-medal match on Sunday.
Defending champion Canada has dominated the rest of the world’s best with depth, defense and championship experience. Sweden, which won it all in Turin eight years ago, is in the same position as Canada for almost exactly the same reasons.
The winner will be the first unbeaten Olympic champion since the Soviet Union won in Sarajevo in 1984. No team in the NHL era has gone through a tournament unbeaten on the way to gold, but both Canada and Sweden have avoided every obstacle so far.
As the pre-tournament favorites and the reigning champions, the Canadians seem almost grateful their medal run has pitted them against Finland, the U.S. and Sweden, the other three strongest teams of the tournament.
“It’s about hockey supremacy,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said. “We like to brag that it’s our game? If you think it’s your game, you better show it’s your game.”
But Sweden cruised through its preliminary-round group and advanced to the finale with a semifinal victory over Finland, patiently wearing down every opponent with mistake-free hockey.
“The Swedish way to have success is to start slow and get better,” Daniel Alfredsson said. “I think we’re getting better at the right time.”
Canada hasn’t even trailed in a game in Sochi, while Sweden has won every contest in regulation. Sweden has outscored Canada 17-14. Canada and its first-time Olympic goalie, Carey Price, have allowed just three goals in five games, while Henrik Lundqvist has yielded just six.
The 11 Canadians returning from that 2010 championship team understand the stakes of a gold-medal game after their overtime victory over the Americans in Vancouver. When they attempt to become the first repeat Olympic champions in more than 20 years, they’ll have their hockey-mad fans in mind — but no amount of scrutiny has changed their unyielding defensive resolve in Sochi.
“I think we feel pressure,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who still hasn’t scored a goal in Sochi. “We know everybody is watching.”
Sweden has four players back from the Turin champions, including goalie Lundqvist.
In many Swedish players, the game awakens echoes of arguably the biggest moment in their nation’s hockey history. Sweden’s shootout victory over mighty Canada in the gold-medal game at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 was immortalized on a postage stamp, and it inspired a generation of young players — including most of the members of the current team.
“It’s one of the greatest memories I have from growing up,” said 25-year-old Carl Hagelin. “It’s something that really made me want to pursue a career in hockey. Seeing those guys win gold made me want to be in the same situation.”