Familiarity breeds respect
Familiarity breeds respect
CAN coach hails SWE clubmates ahead of final
When Canada faces Sweden in the Olympic final, it brings several key Swedish players up against their regular coach, Mike Babcock.
Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings roster has a strong Scandinavian flavour, starting with captain Henrik Zetterberg and including goalie Jonas Gustavsson, defensive stars Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall as well as forward Gustav Nyquist and veteran Daniel Alfredsson.
Zetterberg would have captained the Swedes were it not for injury; the other four will be skating against Canada for the gold medal on Sunday. And four more Swedes feature in the Red Wings organisation without reaching the Olympic roster.
Small wonder, then, that Babcock admits he’d be cheering for Sweden if the Tre Kronor was playing any other opponent.
“Obviously I'm a huge fan of Swedes. It's a beautiful country and they're good people,” he said. “My captain plays for them and they’ve got some really good men on that team.”
Among the principle virtues of Swedish hockey players, Babcock cites hard work and a team ethic. “They are ego-free players, they’re well structured, they don’t hand the puck over for free and they have a dangerous power play,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard, fast game.”
The Red Wings connection has played a significant role in Sweden’s progress through the tournament. Alfredsson, at the age of 41, is the veteran who helps keep the younger players focussed through the tournament. His gold medal experience from Turin has been important, but he’s also chipped in with 2+2=4 points to help push Sweden to the final once again.Continue reading
Kronwall, stand-in captain in the absence of Zetterberg, has been solid in defence and regularly picks up the plaudits of his team-mates. Erik Karlsson’s eight-point haul from the blue line might have been the eye-catching stat of the competition, but he can’t speak enough in praise of Kronwall’s leadership.
“He’s been a key player for us,” Karlsson said. “When Zetterberg couldn’t play anymore, he stepped up for us. He’s taken that role and really sacrificed himself to make sure that everybody’s ready. He leads by example for us, and he makes it easier sometimes to make decisions out there.”
The man himself is less prone to self-promotion – that whole ego-free thing Babcock mentioned – and instead prefers to evoke the thoughts of Zetterberg, who usually wears the C in the locker room for Detroit and Sweden.
"It’s what Hank says in Detroit – don't get too high, don't get too low," Kronwall said. "That's just something that I keep in the back of my mind. Hank is an unbelievable captain, and we wish he was here with us. He can't be here physically, but mentally, it feels like he is around us."
He also paid tribute to the professionalism of Babcock's coaching: "He's incredibly prepared. He spends endless hours on the rink every day, going through videos, doing everything to win."
Alfredsson, meanwhile, feels that he knows what to expect from a Babcock team and recognises some of Canada's play from the Red Wings strategies. "I think both teams know each other really well. I think Mike and Canada play a similar system to what we do in Detroit, but they also made adjustments to the bigger ice and do some things differently," he said. "Both coaches are going to be well aware of what the other guys do, and it's going to be more a matter of who wins the battles, who wins the races to the pucks, that's going to decide it."
But, like everyone else, he'll be setting aside friendships for the duration of the battle: "I've been part of World Championships and Olympics before and you might say hi today at dinner, but tomorrow it's all business. They're red and white and we are blue and yellow."
Sweden has focussed on the fun part of Olympic hockey – the team is often heard talking up the simple joys of cycling around the Sochi coastal cluster and mucking in together in the Olympic Village.
That’s a big contrast with the pressure cooker surrounding the Canadian players, whose every move is under the microscope.
But Babcock is philosophical about that pressure as well, although he admits sometimes fans need a reminder that there’s more to winning Olympic gold than pulling on a jersey and getting on the ice.
“It’s all part of the process in Canada,” he said. “Last time when we played in Vancouver 27 million out of 33 million people were watching the game. Everyone’s invested in the team, everyone’s interested. Why wouldn’t people like that second guess and question what we’re doing?
“But these are great teams, the game with the USA was unbelievable. The score’s 1-0, the goalies had great games, it’s tight, it’s hard. Of course the country expects us to win, and will be disappointed if we don’t, but they need to remember that nobody just gives these medals out.”
Canada faces off against Sweden in the Olympic gold medal game on Sunday at 16:00 Sochi time (13:00 CET, 7:00 ET).
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