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One by one, players in what could be called the “Grandpa Games” said their goodbyes, their gold-medal hopes over.
Thank you Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved for coming and trying to duplicate the 1998 Czech Miracle On Ice, you were fun to watch. Thank you Sandis Ozolinsh, for how you motivated your Latvians teammates, standing on the bench, trying to will them to victory against Canada. And thank you Teemu Selanne, for adding to your legacy as the highest-scoring Olympian of all time. Six Olympics, and a gentlemen to the end.
The Olympics are usually a young man’s – or young woman’s – game but the men’s Olympic hockey tournament featured lots of grey in the beards and silver in the hair, a whole generation of aging older players sticking around for one last hurrah.
Now only one is left standing. At 41, the Detroit Red Wings’ Daniel Alfredsson, the former long-time captain of the Ottawa Senators, stands in the way of Canada’s gold-medal aspirations.
Alfredsson is one of only four Swedes here who won a gold medal in 2006, just the second team in Swedish history to do it. To win another “would be unbelievable,” said Alfredsson, but that was all he was prepared to concede Saturday, as Sweden went through its final practice, in preparation for Sunday’s game against Canada.
“I’m not allowing myself to think too far ahead.”
The Swedes have won all five of their first games in regulation, something no other team has managed, and they’ve done it without three of their top scoring talents, Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
Sweden’s depth doesn’t compare to Canada’s so there is a drop off in talent when players of this calibre are eliminated from the line-up. But they have found their way here by following a collective defensive path and they will pose a stiff test to the Canadians, who have proven to be equally adept at the defensive side of the game and have been installed by bookmakers as the favourites.
Alfredsson has been playing on a line with Patrick Berglund and Alex Steen, two St. Louis Blues, and is getting a chance to play again with former Ottawa Senators’ teammate Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is the opposite end of the age spectrum, just 23, the second youngest player on the team that likes experience on its blue line. Sweden left two top young NHL defenders, Victor Hedman and Jonas Brodin off the team, while Phoenix Coyotes’ emerging star Oliver Ekman-Larsson is essentially the seventh defenceman, bumped down the depth chart when Alex Edler returned from a two-game suspension to start the tournament. Edler plays mostly with , who has eight points and a team-leading four goals.
Youth and experience, old and young, trying to find the right winning balance. Karlsson is after his first Olympic medal and he is the only Swedish player to play more than 100 minutes so far.
“It’s one of those games you’ve been looking forward to for as long as you’ve been playing hockey,” said Karlsson. “It’s a rare opportunity and especially to play Canada in that final at the Olympics, it’s something you’re going to have to cherish and enjoy at the same time. We’ve got to try and make everything we can to win this game.”
“There’s no question, (Karlsson) played really well in the quarter-finals and semi-finals,” said Alfredsson. “First time being on this stage for him, it’s really impressive. Watching Canada, Drew Doughty seems like he’s been that guy for Canada. We’re going to do everything we can to stop him, and I’m sure they’re looking to target Karlsson tomorrow. It’s going to be hard, because he’s so agile and quick.”
Six of the players on the Swedish roster play for Canadian coach Mike Babcock in Detroit – Alfredsson, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyqvist, back-up goalie Jonas Gustavsson and the injured Zetterberg.
“I’m real proud of those guys,” said Babcock. “They’re good, good men and good players and they’ve done a lot of winning in their careers. It should be a lot of fun. It’s what it’s all about.
“We’re here with an opportunity. Pressure simply means you have a chance. If you didn’t have a chance, there would be no pressure on you whatsoever. I’ll take the pressure all day long. It’s exciting. We have an opportunity to do something really special.
“And so do the Swedes.”
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