Posted: Tuesday February 21, 2006 9:36PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 10:11AM
Goaltender Mikael Tellqvist reacts after a Slovakia goal on Tuesday -- but how upset, really, were the Swedes?
Because the International Ice Hockey Federation probably would have taken a dim view if he had tried to put the Swedish bikini tanning team on the ice against Slovakia, Olympic coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson opened the gate and had the Swedes play old-school hockey in their last game of the Olympic round-robin. Now, whether this was closer to old-school like Gordie Howe or old-school like City College and the college basketball scandals of the early 1950s is a matter best left to the IIHF. The IIHF directorate met at 11 p.m. on Tuesday to decide if Sweden, clearly looking for a cushy landing spot in the quarterfinal, had played it straight or had tanked in order to get a crack at Switzerland -- a legitimate question after mailing in a 3-0 snoozer against the Slovaks.
Luckily, the IIHF supervisor saw nothing that pointed to "a tainted game or foul play." "Now it's a nonissue," said IIHF spokesman Szymon Szemberg. The "normal game" the IIHF representative witnessed had Peter Forsberg, nursing a strained groin that has kept him sidelined for all but one of the previous round-robin games, back on left wing, playing a healthy 17:05, including, inexplicably, the final 62 seconds in a three-goal game. There was also Mikael Tellqvist in goal for the first time in the tournament, replacing No. 1 Henrik Lundqvist, but considering the Swedes had to be back on the ice against, yes, Switzerland, in less than 24 hours, that was an obvious call.
So, did the Swedes lie down?
No, but they did recline a little.
We interrupt your outrage to inject a note of realism: The notion that Sweden might have an easier time in the quarters against the Swiss, which has only three NHL players and which has cooled considerably since upsetting the Czech Republic and Canada early in the round-robin, is laughably obvious. But -- like the answer to the question "Does this dress make me look fat?" -- well, there are certain thoughts best left unexpressed.
"If I had to pick Czech, Canada or Switzerland, I would pick Switzerland," Finnish defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "Still, that's a pretty hard thing to say in public." But Gustafsson, who seems to love the sound of his own voice, had to blab what everyone else in the hockey world merely was content to think. As bright ideas go, openly speculating about a chance to meet the Swiss instead of some of hockey's more established powers in a knockout game, as he did in an interview with SVT, the Swedish television network, late Monday, ranks ahead of the XFL on NBC but behind New Coke. Although the tournament format lends itself to some of this sort of finagling, the IOC and IIHF rightly get twitchy when the notion of arranged games comes up. According to Szemberg, IIHF president René Fasel, also an IOC member, was "surprised and disappointed" when apprised of these comments by Gustafsson:
"We are discussing inside our group what is good and not good to do," Gustafsson said. "It's a tricky situation. Playing Canada and Czech, one is plague and one is cholera. Should you try to choose opponents? Or should you do whatever you can to win and take the opponent that comes with that? It's tough to say. That's a tough decision."
Incidentally, plague beat cholera 3-2 in an earlier game.