In a delightful
act of cheek last Saturday, the day before the Finland- Sweden Olympic hockey
final, Sweden's top-selling tabloid, Expressen, invited Finns to become Swedish
citizens so that they could take part in a gold medal hockey celebration
scheduled for the next day. Expressen provided a convenient link that would
enable users to download Sweden's immigration form. This would have been, as it
turned out, the only time any form held in a wild Olympic hockey tournament. In
Turin's Nordic Combined, Indoor Division, Sweden did indeed edge Finland, 3-2,
in a tightly played match not quite as good as its backstory.
The third, and probably penultimate, Olympic tournament with NHL players--the
grueling eight-games-in-12-days schedule, and its disruption to the NHL season,
has made league officials loath to commit beyond the conveniently located 2010
Games in Vancouver--had it all: prominent players going for MRIs and North
American teams going MIA; a post-game vivisection of USA Hockey; an
all-tournament defenseman named Kenny Jonsson who plays with gardeners and real
estate agents in the Swedish Second Division; and a dream final ... at least if
you dream in a language with dots over the vowels. As Swedish and Finnish
players patiently explained to sportswriters who get Duke-Carolina but are a
little fuzzy on Scandinavian Smackdown, this was Big Brother ( Sweden) against
Little Brother ( Finland), with all the requisite complexes.
One problem was
that Little Brother had to stay up past his bedtime to get to the final. The
undermanned Finns, impeccable for seven games, played the final on leaden legs.
"We weren't as fresh," captain Saku Koivu said. "[The Swedes had]
an extremely experienced team, and they didn't have to play as hard in the last
two games as we did."
With a mix of
gamesmanship and a compliant Czech coach who did not pull his sievelike goalie,
Milan Hnilicka, until after Hnilicka had allowed five goals in the semis, the
Swedes waltzed to the final. In the quarters they faced Switzerland, the
cupcake of the last eight teams, a matchup Sweden snared by losing its final
preliminary-round game, with Slovakia. Beforehand, Swedish coach Bengt-Ake
Gustafsson had ruminated about tanking against Slovakia to avoid powerful
Canada or the Czechs in the quarters, telling Swedish television, "One is
cholera, the other the plague." Then, on an extended two-man advantage
against the Slovaks, the scary power-play unit of Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin,
Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom and Fredrik Modin--five men out?--didn't
put a puck on net. If the Swedes had passed the puck any more, their next
opponent would have been the Washington Generals. "[They] were even afraid
to shoot!" exasperated Russian coach Vladimir Krikunov said.
For the first time
since 1992, no North American team reached the semis. The Canadians fell in the
quarters 2--0 to Russia, the third time in four matches they were blanked,
which made them less like cholera and more like acid reflux. Forward Todd
Bertuzzi, who had been a controversial choice for Team Canada, was in the
penalty box when effervescent 20-year-old Alexander Ovechkin scored the
decisive first goal. In a country where people Monday morning quarterback every
power play, Canadians debated the absence of young stars such as Sidney Crosby,
Eric Staal and Dion Phaneuf on their team.
Meanwhile on the
26th anniversary of the American win over the Soviet Union--Feb. 22--a mewling
Mike Modano, benched in the third period by coach Peter Laviolette, eviscerated
USA Hockey moments after a knockout loss to the Finns. One complaint: The
organization hadn't adequately handled transportation and ticketing for players
and their families. Apparently the U.S. rallying cry has gone from "Do you
believe in miracles?" to "Can we get three on the red-eye?" After
returning to the U.S. on the same flight as Team USA general manager Don
Waddell, and not exchanging a word with him, Modano, the Stars' top center,
told The Dallas Morning News he regretted the timing of his remarks.
But like writer
Dickie Dunn in Slap Shot, Modano was just trying to capture the spirit of the
thing: a negative vibe that marred the tournament. Not that the Turinese were
expected to rabidly support what is, to them, essentially an exotic sport.
(Before two of the quarterfinal games, tickets were offered to Olympic
accredited personnel for three euros, the price of a prosciutto and provolone
sandwich at the rinks.) But the NHL also seemed distinctly lukewarm. There was
fretting over an All-Star team on the injured list--goalie Dominik Hasek
(groin); defensemen Mattias Ohlund (ribs) and Sami Salo (shoulder); left wing
Simon Gagn� (knee); right wing Jaromir Jagr (groin); and Modano (feelings)--and
grousing from owners like the Flyers' Ed Snider, upset that Forsberg, who
missed his last eight games before the break with a groin injury, had suited up
If 2010 is the
NHL's Olympic swan song, though, that would be a shame for hockey fans. The
final provided some indelible moments for Sweden's so-called Golden
Generation-- Forsberg, Sundin and Lidstrom, who scored the winner 10 seconds
into the third period--as its NHL stars finally won as a group. As the Finns
pressed in the last minute, goalie Henrik Lundqvist made a point-blank, blocker
save on Olli Jokinen, and Henrik Zetterberg hurled himself at Kimmo Timonen's
blast with four seconds left. "It hit the shin pads," Zetterberg said.
Maybe this fine
madness didn't register across the Atlantic, but back home, Big Brother was
watching. And smiling.