Posted: Tuesday February 21, 2006 9:36PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 10:11AM
There was a little more to the Canada-Czech match than the energy-saving effort against Slovakia, an otherwise virtually meaningless game that a coach made meaningful only because he ran his yap. The Swedes were outshot 31-17. They hardly tested goalie Karol Krizan, who plays for MoDo in the Swedish Elite League. When a power play of Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Fredrik Modin, Daniel Alfredsson and Niklas Lidstrom passes the puck around the perimeter and hits one post during an extended five-on-three in the second period -- the group did not record a shot -- the IIHF might have surmised the team was playing with a nudge and a wink.
If this were the thinking-man's approach to Olympic hockey, Gustafsson's ruminations did not go over well at home, except with some of the late bettors on the state-run system who made a run to Slovakia -- the odds changed dramatically after Gustafsson's comments -- with serious kronor. At least the Swedish public latched onto the idealism of the Olympics better than its hockey coach. Fifteen minutes before the opening faceoff against Slovakia, a whopping 114,701 had responded to an online poll by the Aftonbladet newspaper. More than 69.1 percent said Team Sweden should go all out rather than play it cute in order to meet the Swiss.
Maybe karma had something to do with it. After stumbling to Belarus in the Olympic quarters four years ago, Gustafsson might have been better off being less choosy.
"On paper, [Switzerland is] the weakest team, that's what I said," Gustafsson said in the postmatch news conference. "That's a fact. We may have to eat it up tomorrow. The Swiss team works its ass off. We have to perform much better than we did today ourselves."
The IIHF match supervisor, a Finn, made his recommendations, but one of his countrymen already had made up his mind before the game. Said center Olli Jokinen, "If the coach is saying things like that in the papers, it's bad for sport.... If you want to go a long way in this tournament, you have to be ready to play against anyone. For our country, when we put a jersey on, we want to win every time. There is not such a thing as picking a team to play against. You owe it to the people back home who are watching the game -- you put the best product on the ice every single day. For our country, winning is the only thing we're looking forward to."
Maybe the Swedes will get away with their gamesmanship -- the IIHF withheld judgment on the remarks and might penalize the Swedish federation later -- but as your mother always reminded you, be careful what you wish for.