Sweden's win embodies Olympic spiritPosted: Saturday February 16, 2002 12:26 AM
Updated: Saturday February 16, 2002 1:04 AM
"The game that matters is the one on Wednesday," said Theo Fleury.
"The game that matters is the one on Wednesday," said Curtis Joseph.
They're right, of course. Wednesday is when elimination play begins. These preliminary games are just jostling for position. Team Canada didn't help its chances for the gold by bowing down in this one, however. Now, it will be almost impossible for Canada to win its bracket, which means it will have three tough games in the elimination round instead of two.
If you're asking me -- and I was in attendance at the E Center -- this game did matter. The Olympics are about adopting new favorites every day; today my favorite is Team Sweden. I loved these guys Friday night. I loved their taxicab-yellow uniforms and the three blue crowns on the belly of their jerseys. I loved the impressive sail of Viking schooner stitched over their left breasts. Now that's old school.
What I really loved, though, is the way the Swedes played. In the second period, as this plucky band turned a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 advantage, Sweden had a style as elegant and commanding as its native Nobelist Par Lagerkvist -- and not even Lagerkvist could have written this one more convincingly.
The Swedes passed the puck sharply across the wide ice. They skated smoothly ahead of the Canadian defenders. Most of all, they let their forwards fly deep and then sent the puck cleanly up ice. Call it a Torpedo, or whatever you will, but it looked beautiful from this perspective. "Send the forwards deep, spread out the team -- that's what we wanted to do," said defenseman Kim Johnsson. "It went well."
After seeing so many cramped NHL games where bodies seem perpetually entangled, this was -- as literally as you want to take it -- a rush of fresh air.
I loved the Swedes because after the win they remained humble. They were quicker to talk about Canada's strong start (Team Canada held sway for the first 10 minutes) and Canada's strong finish (Team Canada pressured for much of the last period) than they were to speak about their own brilliance in the second period.
I loved Team Sweden Friday night because of how little P.J. Axelsson kept knocking into men so much larger than him -- 6-foot-6 Chris Pronger, for one -- and kept flitting about nipping the Canadians all over the ice.
I loved the Swedes because in the runway after the game, Daniel Alfredsson stood with his blond hair all tousled and his boyish face all aglow and said, "This is fun!" It may have been 4 a.m. back in Sweden, but Alfredsson was going to call home.
I loved Team Sweden also because of goalie Tommy Salo. How can anyone not love the way he plays? He's a horse with monkey arms. We got a taste Friday of what Edmonton Oilers fans are so often lucky enough to see. Salo was enduring and unyielding. By the time he snagged Fleury's wraparound attempt in the third period -- snagged it with his glove while lying face down on the ice -- we'd almost come to expect it.
Team Canada will get better than the sloppy selves they showed Friday, and Sweden can't count on Salo to be stupendous every night. It's true that the real games begin on Wednesday. But in case we'd forgotten for even a moment, Sweden's win reminded us that this medal field is wide open. And that, as Swedish defenseman Mattias Norstorm said with a smile, "is the charm of the Olympics."
Sports Illustrated senior writer is in Utah covering the Olympics for the magazin and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.