Canada, Sweden set for gold medal showdown
Olympic hockey final at 7 a.m. ET on cbc.ca/olympics
SOCHI — Canada versus the United States or Canada versus Russia have been the heated hockey rivalries that get people excited. Sweden? Not so much.
Perhaps Sunday's gold medal game (7 a.m. ET, cbc.ca/olympics) will provide some memorable moments to build the excitement for future generations of hockey fans.
There have been important clashes between Canada and Sweden on the ice at world championships and world junior tournaments. But as far as the Olympic Games go, you have to travel back two decades to the find the last time these two hockey powers butted heads in a gold-medal final.
That was when Peter Forsberg beat Canadian goalie Corey Hirsch with a brilliant shootout dangle to give Sweden its first Olympic gold medal in hockey in a moment that was later commemorated with a postage stamp in Sweden. It also was the last Olympics before the NHL decided to join the party.
Since then Canada has sandwiched gold medals in 2002 and 2010 around another Sweden triumph in 2006, four years after its embarrassing quarter-final fall to Belarus in Salt Lake City.
It was simply a matter of time before the Swedes and the Canadians got together for a game of this magnitude.
No other countries have enjoyed this sort of hockey success at all in the past dozen years.
Canada: Gold in 2002, 2010
Sweden - Gold in 2006
Canada: Gold in 2003, 2004, 2007 (finalist in 2005, 2008, 2009)
Sweden: Gold in 2006, 2013 (finalist in 2003, 2004, 2011)
World junior tournament
Canada: Gold in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 (finalist in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011)
Sweden: Gold in 2012 (finalist 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014)
"I think everybody realizes that in Sweden and Canada, hockey goes hand in hand," Sweden forward Daniel Alfredsson said on Saturday.
"Hockey is a big part of Swedish sport, but not to the same extent as soccer. I don't know if there is a second sport in Canada," he added.
Babcock knows top Swedish stars well
Babcock was behind the Canadian bench when his club beat Sweden in the 2004 world championship. As coach of the Detroit Red Wings, he relies on several Swedes — Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Gustav Nyquist, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson — for success.
"What I do know about the Swedes is … they're good players and they have no ego," Babcock said.
"It will be about the team and they have been very good here.
"Obviously, I'm a huge fan of the Swedes. It's a beautiful country and they're good people."
Both the Canadian and Swedish teams have suffered key injuries prior to and during the Olympic tournament and yet still survived.
Canada lost prolific goal scorer Steven Stamkos before the Olympics and John Tavares here earlier this week. Sweden lost Henrik Sedin and Franzen before arriving in Sochi, and Zetterberg to back woes last week.
Crosby feels 'pressure'
Sweden has been a consistent and efficient machine at the 2014 Winter Games.
With Erik Karlsson running the power play and Henrik Lundqvist continuing the roll he was on heading into the Olympic break, the Swedes have had only two close calls, a 1-0 win over Switzerland thanks to a late-game goal from Alfredsson and a 2-1 semifinal victory against Finland.
Canada, on the other hand, has played a stingy team defensive game and scored just enough for three consecutive one-goal games over Finland, Latvia and the U.S. to advance.
"I think we feel pressure," said Sidney Crosby, who is still looking for his first goal in Sochi.
"We know everybody's watching. I think you're focused on getting better as a group.
"Our goal throughout this was to just progress and make sure that we're improving. We've done a really good job of that. We've brought our game up to where it needs to be. But we've got to find that one extra level here in the final."