The Little countries that can, that could be the subtitle for Sunday mornings Gold Medal Game between arch rivals Sweden and Finland. The Scandinavian powers will meet up in the championship game after disposing of the Czechs and Russians in semi final action on Friday.
Sweden looked overwhelming against the Czechs, a team which has been almost as puzzling to watch as the Canadian squad was in Torino. Most of their games they seemed to only do what was necessary to secure a win, nothing more, nothing overly impressive. The one big game that they had to win against the Slovakian squad was one which they rose to the occasion for, but even then, one got the feeling that the Slovaks were only one lucky bounce away from an upset.
In the semi final, you didn't get that same feeling from the Czechs, they were sloppy, uninspired and a times terribly boring to watch. They started their third string goaltender only to replace him once the game seemed out of hand, as far as strategy goes this was one heck of a head scratching exhibition. Star Jaromir Jagr was seemingly pre-occupied while on the ice, he frequently would give the puck away and never seemed to offer much of an offensive threat.
The Swedes on the other hand, seemed in complete control of the game from the beginning. They rolled their lines rapidly and took advantage of the many miscues by the Czechs in both the offensive and defensive zones. By the time the buzzer went on the 7-3 Swedish victory the Czechs looked like a completely dominated squad, ready to leave these games once they play the consolation prize bronze game.
Their opponents in that match up on Saturday will be the Russians, a team that successfully dismissed Canada from the tournament but couldn't find a goal when they ran into the Finns. Finland shut out the Russian squad 4-0 in the second semi final of the day, a match that truly provided a glimpse into the rise of the Finnish game. The Finns outskated, outshot and outhit their Russian opponent, they played a similar game against Canada of clogging up the neutral zone and intercepting the passes and shutting down the attack. It worked on one team in red and had similar success against that other red machine on Friday.
The surprising developments in the hockey tournament leave the organizers with a match up few probably thought possible a week ago, but now offers hockey heaven to two nations that enjoy the game and play it well. The two Scandinavian rivals have met many times before, the games usually entertaining affairs. The games have been emotional rollercoasters for both nations, more disappointing for the Finns who have stumbled a few times losing to their neighbours in the dying minutes of games.
Sunday will be a shutdown day in the two nations, the tone of battle like those great wars between Canada and Russia of years gone by. We know the emotions they'll have, wishing a bit that we were the ones living and dying on every shot. We'll be just a little bit jealous this Sunday, but we can console ourselves with the thought that the final game will be played by two countries that love hockey, two countries that respect the sport and two nations that will be watching with great interest as to the outcome.
Good for them, lets hope that they put on a heck of a show for those of us peering over the fence to see what's going on!