For the love of big brother
For the love of big brother
Two 'fraternal' nations do battle in a Nordic semi-final
Swedish coach Per Marts is looking forward to a family affair when his team faces Finland in Friday's semi-final - and insists he has no regrets over a rash prediction.
The long-running Nordic rivalry was stoked up a little further when Marts told journalists he expected to play Russia in the last four. Within hours Finland had dumped the host nation out of the competition and was looking forward to ramming the coach's words down his throat.
That's no surprise for Marts, though. "Sweden and Finland are like big brother and little brother, even though I'm not always sure which one is big and which is little," he said after Thursday lunchtime's training session. "We like to compete with one another, but at the same time we love each other like brothers."
Meanwhile, he was unconcerned about any potential scandal brewing over his Russia prediction. "I don't regret it at all. I was asked a question and I answered it honestly. I'm not going to hide what I think - if you don't like it, don't ask the question.
"Even if motivates the Finns, I'm not going to worry about it. I can't help it now."
Marts wasn't the only member of the Swedish party guilty of thinking ahead to a possible semi-final against Russia - in the aftermath of the quarter-final win over Slovenia defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson talked enthusiastically about the prospect of silencing a home crowd in the Bolshoy Ice Dome, while also acknowledging that it was always special to play against the Finns.Continue reading
But now the focus is firmly on reprising an ancient hockey rivalry as the teams come together for their biggest clash since the Olympic gold medal game in 2006.
Daniel Alfredsson was part of that roster, collecting gold along the way, and the 41-year-old is relishing what looks like an evenly-matched encounter. "Both teams have had some tough injuries and we're very similar," he said. "I was really impressed with the way they played against Russia."
Alfredsson's experience and big-game know-how is rubbing off on his younger colleagues, as Niklas Backstrom attests. "It's brilliant having him on the team," he said. "He brings so much experience to the team, and he's still a really good hockey player. He can score goals, he can do everything out there on the ice.
"There are a couple of other older guys who have been through this before. It's good to have them in the locker room, it's helps us know what to expect."
Backstrom is also a keen follower of the rivalry between Sweden and Finland, which he characterises as a friendly dispute rather than a frosty hatred. "Sure, we'll hate each other when we are on the ice tomorrow, but we don't hate each other all the time," he said. "It's been a big rivalry for many years and these are always fun games to play."
"Lots of the players know each other well, they've played in the same leagues together," agreed Jonathan Eriksson, a team-mate of Alfredsson at Detroit Red Wings. He is also ready to write another chapter in the history of big Nordic clashes. "We always seem to play each other in the big tournaments," he said. "Whether it's a final or a semi-final it doesn't really matter. It's a matter of pride for the country and all that.
"Owning the centre ice and keeping them on the outside is going to be crucial."
For coach Marts, keeping possession is also likely to be the key to victory. His team has been criticized at times for its workmanlike progress through the competition, with some feeling that the Tre Kronor haven't reprised the performance they showed while winning the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm last year.
"We've thought a lot about our style of hockey, but winning is the most important thing," he said. "How it looks doesn't matter, but if we can we would like to dominate possession. I hope we can control the whole game against Finland, but it would be wrong to say I expect to do this for 60 minutes.
"We have to go hard and really want to win it tomorrow. Finland has a good defence and is dangerous on the breakout. We saw them beat Russia, we know they're a good team."
Sweden plays Finland in the first of Friday's semi-finals. The puck drops at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at 16:00 local time, (13:00 Swedish, 14:00 Finnish time).
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