Canada bests Sweden, faces Finland for gold
Published Sunday, May 13, 2007 9:20AM EDT
MOSCOW - It's almost looked a little too easy.
Canada has cruised through the IIHF World Hockey Championship with eight straight wins and needs just one more to come home with a gold medal on Sunday against Finland (TSN, 12:15 p.m. ET).
They handed Sweden a 4-1 semifinal loss on Saturday that was as convincing as they come and have now outscored their opponents 37-19 overall.
But the guys wearing red and white say this tournament has been anything but a light skate around the international ice rink.
"I don't think the word easy comes into play at all when you're talking about the world championship and getting to the gold medal,'' said forward Mike Cammalleri, who was part of the team that finished fourth in 2006. "Year after year, there's a number of teams that can win this tournament.''
Just ask the Russians, who had a full house at Khodynka Arena preparing for a major party until Mikko Koivu scored in overtime to give Finland a 2-1 upset victory. The host team will now play Sweden for bronze on Sunday.
Canada and Russia had each been putting up comfortable wins throughout the event and seemed to be on a crash course for what would have been a dream final.
The Canadians were as surprised as anyone to instead see Finland earn a spot in the big game.
"I don't think anyone expected to beat Russia in this tournament and the Finns did it,'' said Canadian forward Rick Nash. "They outworked them, played aggressive.
"It was pretty impressive on their behalf.''
That adjective can also be applied to the way Canada played in beating Sweden, a team that Canadian coach Andy Murray had claimed was the favourite heading in.
Cammalleri, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal had goals in a dominant first period and goaltender Cam Ward made 29 saves in the game after watching the quarter-final from the bench while Dwayne Roloson played.
The two goalies have each won four times in the tournament while alternating starts. Murray again wouldn't tip his hat about who would get the call against Finland.
"We're both waiting on Andy to make the decision,'' said Ward, last year's Conn Smythe winner. "Obviously I hope to be playing tomorrow, it would be extremely exciting.
"But if not, Dwayne's got my full support and I'll have my cheering pom-poms out.''
That kind of positive team effort will be needed by everyone against the patient Finns if Saturday's semifinal win over Russia is any indication.
Finland had just 19 shots on goal in the game while generally letting the flashy Russians control the tempo.
"We usually play tight,'' said Finnish forward Jere Lehtinen. "That gives us a chance to win games.''
That tight checking style and the splendid goaltending of Kari Lehtonen was enough to hold off the home team.
"One mistake, the puck is in the net,'' said Russian forward Sergei Brylin. "That's hockey, that happens. Their goalie played well and they played tight defensively in the neutral zone.
"We turned the puck over way too much in the neutral zone.''
It's something of a cautionary tale for the Canadians.
Canada held its training camp in Tampere, Finland, before the tournament started and had an exhibition game against the Finns. A Canadian team featuring 15 of the guys who are now playing here lost 4-2.
The things they saw in that game have helped give the Canadians an idea of what to expect in the final.
"They're an aggressive team, high energy,'' said Nash, who had the other goal for Canada on Saturday. "They're going for gold as well so it should be fun.''
A win would give Canada its third world championship gold in five years.
Nash was part of the talented team that lost in the 2005 final and doesn't want to feel the bittersweet sting of a silver-medal performance again. He believes coach Murray has been a key part of this team's success.
"We've got to give credit for Andy, the way he had us prepared for that game,'' said Nash.
You can bet Murray was again up most of the night preparing for the game against Finland. He owns world championship gold medals from 1997 and 2003, which gives him one more than anyone from Finland has.
That country won its only gold in 1995. It has finished second five times, including a loss to Canada in the 1994 final.
Murray will make sure everyone is ready for Sunday's game because it's no fun getting that far and losing.
"It's nice to win tonight, but we've got a real tough one tomorrow,'' he said.
General manager Steve Yzerman knows that as well as anyone. He stood in the bowels of the arena after the semifinal win and looked pensive.
This is Yzerman's first experience assembling a team and he wasn't sure if it was going to be of gold medal calibre before the tournament started.
"I really wasn't sure coming in,'' Yzerman said. "I kind of kept my fingers crossed and thought we would be a competitive team.''
They've been more than that so far.
Canada last went through this tournament without a loss in 2003 under Murray. The coach has 16 wins and a tie in his last 17 games at the event.
It's been anything but easy even if it looks that way. The coach seems to be pushing all the right buttons and getting the most from his players, who also deserve plenty of credit after eight straight wins.
"You'd like to say it's jell and it's chemistry and it's a magic potion,'' said Cammalleri. "But the fact of the matter is you can put anybody with anybody on this team and guys are going to play well.''