Saturday, May 20, 2006

Tre Kronor Triumphant

They’ll be going for the double at the World Championships on Sunday, Sweden advanced to the final of the tournament with a wild 5-4 victory over Canada in a nasty bit of hockey at Riga, Latvia.

Canada got off to a sloppy start in the semi final match up with the defending Olympic champions and never could make that final comeback, though not through a lack of effort from their star wunderkind Sidney Crosby.

Canada trailed at one point by three goals, which is a tall order to ask to be filled when playing a team such as the Swedes who can change from a full offense to a mind numbing trap in the course of a shift change.

The second period got off to a rather crummy start for Canada, as the Swedes scored two goals on their first two shots to dig a deep hole for the Canadians leading 3-1. Canada however, true to the spirit never gave up, battling back through the rest of the second and third periods to make it close and almost derail the Swedish celebration.

The game took a nasty turn at the end of the second period, when Sidney Crosby was viciously cross checked to the face after celebrating a goal, helped to the dressing room in a rather groggy state, the inevitable scrum formed on the ice as Canadian players sought out justice on Mika Hannula. When the fireworks were done, Hannula was gone from the game and a five minute penalty was effectively reduced to three.

With the buzz still in the building from the ugly hit, Crosby returned to the ice in the third and tried single handedly to bring his team back to even terms with the Swedes. Crosby set up Patrice Bergeron for another goal as Canada clawed their way back to within one goal of Sweden, but it would be a goal too far as the Swedes held on to claim victory 5-4 and a placing in the Gold medal game against the Czech Republic on Sunday. The Czechs defeated Finland 3-1 in the other semi final, which will now pit them against the Swedes. It's a game that Sweden will have to play without Hannula, who was suspended from further play in the tournament for his blatant cheap shot at Crosby.

The loss left the Canadian squad bitterly disappointed, having felt that they had come together quite well over the last two weeks and were in a good position to take home Gold. With a poor first period those dreams were quashed and they now try to refocus on the Bronze medal match with Finland.

While they’ll no doubt be less than happy with the final outcome of the tournament, there were some solid positives for Canadians to ponder as the Championships wind down. A very youthful Canadian team more than handled themselves like a veteran squad for the most part, and the trio of Crosby, Bergeron and Boyes mad a pretty solid entrance to the International stage. For Crosby the tournament showcased a new level of maturity and leadership for the young Nova Scotian, his playmaking skills, shooting prowess and ability to absorb some punishing hits and cheap shots bode well for Canada for the years to come.

As for Sunday’s gold medal game, judging by the attitude of the boys from Tre Kronor, Canada will be chanting Go Czechs Go, deny the Swedes their double, do Sidney proud!

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