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Their own Miracle

Inspirational movie helps propel Swedish over U.S.

Posted: Friday February 17, 2006 6:45PM; Updated: Friday February 17, 2006 6:48PM
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Sweden stuns U.S.
Sweden knocked off the U.S. for the first time in 24 international matches.

TURIN, Italy -- For a team trying to win a gold medal, watching a TV show called Lost doesn't send the right message. While some U.S. teammates viewed the first season on DVD in the athletes' village, Sweden's head coach Peter Elander had his players watch Miracle several times and implemented the same skating drills Herb Brooks used on the 1980 U.S. team. "We've done it in our preparation for the last three months," Elander said. "The legs feed the wolf. Maybe we are not the best team here, but we are the best-conditioned team."

In a stunning 3-2 shootout loss on Friday, the U.S. made history by failing to make the championship game against Canada in the Olympics. Sweden will face the defending gold medalist on Monday, while the U.S. will play Finland, who lost 6-0 to Canada in the semifinals, for the bronze. "I'm in shock right now," U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero said. "This is a huge day for Sweden. A huge day for the U.S. It's never happened before."

This is the first time the U.S. has lost to Sweden in 24 international matches and the first time the Americans will not face their archrivals in the finals since women's hockey began playing in international competitions in 1990. "It feels unreal to be in the Olympic finals," Sweden defenseman Joa Elfsberg said, draping a Swedish flag around her shoulders. "I think it's very good that it's not the U.S. and Canada in the final all the time. I think it's really good for women's hockey that it's not the same every time."

After 70 minutes of play, it was clear the U.S. was in unfamiliar territory. When U.S. goalie Chanda Gunn stepped onto the ice for the five-person shootout, she skated toward the wrong net. Sweden's Kim Martin, who made 37 saves in regulation, was pumped when she learned she would be the first goalie in the shootout and blocked all four attempts from the U.S.

"Going into overtime, we didn't even know the protocol," Ruggiero said. "We wanted to win the game flat-out. We weren't ready for a shootout." After four missed attempts, Ruggiero tried to deke but couldn't put the puck in the net.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish forward Pernilla Winberg, the fourth Swede shooter, slipped a shot past Gunn in the left corner. After U.S. captain Krissy Wendell missed, Maria Rooth netted the winning shootout goal. "I felt pretty focused. I felt confident and I just wish I could have stopped one or two more. I thought we were going to put it away," Gunn said. "But when you're not facing shots for 20 minutes, it's a really difficult position to be in."

Gunn didn't have much chance to practice her skills in the shootout when the Swedes took just 18 shots in regulation. The U.S. had more than double the number of scoring opportunities than Sweden, but had difficulty all week trying to put the puck into the net. In their first two games against Switzerland and Germany, the U.S. converted just 11 of 116 shots taken. In the semis, the U.S. had a brilliant chance to score when they were on a 5-3 power play for nearly three minutes during the second period.

Instead, Rooth tied the game with two goals. "We grew into the game," Elander said. "At the end of 60 minutes we were just as strong as USA on the ice. Now we have a run for the gold medal. We won't be the favorites. In that game, Canada has everything to lose. They can't win another gold medal. They can only lose it."

The Swedes immediately rushed the ice and hugged each other. Martin laid down on the ice as her teammates piled on top of her. The U.S. team, meanwhile, skated off the rink in disbelief looking lost.