It's the final countdown

Finns, Swedes have met four times before for men’s IIHF gold

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Swedish captain Mats Sundin celebrates Sweden's victory over Finland in the gold medal game of the 2006 Olympics. Photo: Jani Rajamäki / Europhoto

BRATISLAVA – Heading into Sunday’s Sweden-Finland clash for the title, let’s take a look back at how one of hockey’s most famous rivalries has unfolded in the four previous times the two sides have squared off for gold.

The First Final: 1992 IIHF World Championship

It was the very first year the IIHF used a playoff system rather than a round-robin format. The Finns were clearly the class of the tournament in Czechoslovakia. Including the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the squad won seven straight games with a goal difference of 39-13. Finland featured three tournament all-stars in goalie Markus Ketterer, defenceman Timo Jutila, and forward Jarkko Varvio.

Yet the Swedes, who had stumbled to fourth place in Finland’s Group A, found their game during elimination play. Despite icing 16 World Championship rookies, they beat Finland 5-2 in the final. An 18-year-old Peter Forsberg got the scoring started on a wraparound, Roger Hansson tallied the eventual 3-0 winner, and the Finns only got on the board in the third period when it was too late. It was Sweden’s second straight world title.

Finns Have Fun in Stockholm: 1995 IIHF World Championship

Finland deviated from its historical pattern of strong starts and weak finishes at the ‘95 tournament in Sweden, which lacked NHL players due to the league’s compressed schedule after the lockout. Losing 3-0 to the Czech Republic on Day One was less than ideal for the Finns. Yet this team, guided by veteran Swedish coach Curt Lindström, got better as the tournament went along, and didn’t even surrender a goal in final-round wins over France (5-0) and the Czechs (3-0).

The Swedes’ best moment on home ice came in the semi-finals when Daniel Alfredsson scored at 8:17 of overtime to give them a 3-2 win over Canada. However, the ultimate nightmare was about to come true for Tre Kronor. In the final at Stockholm’s Globen Arena, the Finns won 4-1 on the strength of a Ville Peltonen hat trick. It was their first world title. “Our disciplined defence and great goaltending by Jarmo Myllys made the difference,'' said Lindström afterwards. “Maybe we were more lucky than the Swedes today.” Finland had lost to Canada in a shootout in the 1994 gold medal game, so this was a refreshing change.

Tornberg Comes Through: 1998 IIHF World Championship

Like 1992, this World Championship featured Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin teaming up to dash Finland’s hopes. Coached by Forsberg’s father Kent, the Swedes shut out Finland 1-0 twice, both in the Qualification Round and in the first game of the two-game final in Zurich, Switzerland. Västerås defenceman Johan Tornberg’s goal in the opener proved to be the gold medal winner under this unusual format, as the two teams tied 0-0 in Game Two, and all the Swedes needed was a draw.

With names like Ville Peltonen, Sami Kapanen, and Olli Jokinen on board, Finnish fans were disappointed about the lack of offence. But Finnish head coach Hannu Aravirta was peculiarly philosophical after settling for silver: "We kept two world stars from scoring on us, Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin. It wasn't easy. So in a way we were the best, too. I'm very satisfied with the team's performance. In the last 24 hours they were super-Finns."

Gold Under Gustafsson: 2006 Olympic Winter Games

The Olympic final in Turin, Italy, remains the freshest episode in everyone’s minds when it comes to these two Nordic rivals. Coached by Erkka Westerlund and backstopped by surprise starter Antero Niittymäki, the Finns won seven straight games to get into the final, including a 4-0 blanking of the Alexander Ovechkin-led Russians in the semis. Star forwards Teemu Selänne and Saku Koivu were on fire.

Early on, the Swedes were far less impressive for head coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, stumbling through the Preliminary Round with shutout losses to Russia (5-0) and Slovakia (3-0). But Tre Kronor took full advantage of the cushy quarter-final matchup that the latter defeat afforded them, and beat Switzerland 6-2 before hammering the Czech Republic 7-3 to make the gold medal game.

Against Finland, Nicklas Lidström scored the winning goal just 10 seconds into the third period on a perfectly placed, rising slapshot set up by the now-legendary Forsberg and Sundin. Olli Jokinen came close to tying the game and sending it to overtime with under a minute left, but he was foiled by Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the doorsteps.

A few months later, Gustafsson sealed his place in hockey lore when he coached Sweden to the 2006 IIHF World Championship in Latvia, making his nation the first ever to claim Winter Games and Worlds gold in the same year.


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