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Sochi 2014: Gold Medal Game - Sweden v. Canada

Dan Waldner

Dan Waldner covers hockey for RotoWire, and has been involved in fantasy hockey pools for 15 years. He's a lifetime Toronto Maple Leafs fan, a passion his wife puts up with and his daughter is starting to emulate.

Här är för alla kulor.

I’m not sure if the sentence loses something in translation, but it’s the Swedish version of the sentence that will be repeated nearly a million times between today and Sunday, from people in all walks of life in two largely hockey obsessed countries.

This one’s for all the marbles.

Even with notable injuries to key players on both sides, namely Henrik Zetterberg and John Tavares, Sunday should be a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic tournament. This will be a well contested affair, with both sides lining up very well both on paper, and in practice.

Canada surprised me Friday afternoon – where their game was tentative and nervous against Latvia, they looked very much like the dominant force they were expected to be against the United States. What stood out for me was the lack of errors; aside from the opening rush by Phil Kessel to the outside that managed to beat the flatfooted Canadian defense, the team bought into a strong defense-first approach. American opportunities were few and far between, and on those rare occasions where there was a scoring chance afforded to them, Carey Price was there to shut the door.

The much-maligned Canadian offense played a fantastic game – yes, they only scored one goal, but if it were not for the stellar play of Jonathan Quick, the game would have been much more one-sided. Canada’s cycle game was very strong, and possession was kept in the corners at will. The American defense was in trouble routinely as the forwards weren’t nearly as committed to the same defensive play as their opponents.

In the end, the Americans did not use their speed enough, and the Canadian team game was far too good. Full marks to all players – there were no noteworthy mistakes in the day. This was a hockey game at the highest level, where one opportune tip was enough to propel the victor to the gold medal match.

Sweden has not surprised me at all in Sochi, and in fact, have been one of the most boringly consistent teams. They came in as number one, they’ve won every game, and done so in a convincing way so as to progress to the gold medal. They are the Rafael Nadal of the French Open – it’s difficult to find flaws in their game if they were always expected to progress to the championship game. It’s probably the most definitive compliment I can give to a team: you were always expected to be this good.

Their win over the Finns on Friday was a closely contested affair; as expected, Finland played the tight defensive hockey that everybody expected. They struck first and put Sweden on their heels early, but as I explained in the pre-game article, unlike the Russians, Sweden was not going to run and hide from a bloody nose. They fought back patiently, with the superior team game they played, and scored two in succession. Finland was just outmatched, and it was a credit to their team that they were able to get this far while missing so many key components to their roster. Just imagine the force they will be in a few years as some of their young guns mature.

But, whereas Finland’s future looks incredibly bright, Sweden’s international light will dim for the next Olympics. Players such as Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Lundqvist, both Sedin twins, Henrik Tallinder, Daniel Alfredsson and Niklas Kronwall will all likely be too old to play in Korea (if the NHL decides to release their players). That is an exceptional amount of talent to lose one team to the next. If Sweden is to win Olympic gold in the near future, this will be the best chance they get for some time.

Regardless, I think we can all rest assured that, if both teams perform on Sunday like they did on Friday, we’re in for the highlight of the day. This will be the best game of the bunch – and boy, have we seen some amazing games. Russia/USA was amazing. The Canada/USA women’s gold medal game was unbelievable. Friday we saw two epic clashes in probably the best day of hockey I’ve ever seen. Now, the pièce de résistance.

Keep the marbles. This one’s for gold. Game on.

Keys to the Game

This one will be quick and easy; the team that dictates the style of play will win the game.

Both teams are built virtually the same – talented scoring offense with strong defensive minded centers, mobile and dynamic defense that can shut down or score with equal panache, and the best goalies in the game.

Both teams will focus on defense first, eliminating odd man rushes. Puck possession will stay to the perimeter, and the point men will be covered rapidly to cut down on the scoring threats from the point. As a result, you’re going to see a lot of cycling with the hopes of drawing a penalty.

Canada has the edge in terms of depth; Sweden, the edge on international experience. Both have excellent penalty kills and power plays. The tiniest of edges goes to Canada for less injuries to their lineup, but in games like this, everybody elevates their play.

Both sides will have to put men in front of the opposing netminder, as both are good enough to stop all the shots they’re able to see.

I know these keys to the game sound generic and pedantic, but at this apex of hockey skill, where literally the best players in the world will be playing four lines deep, the most decisive key will be the most obvious.

The team to make the first mistake will likely lose. That’s how close this game will be. And, we would expect nothing less for the gold medal.

Dan’s Guaranteed Prediction™: 2-1 Canada (in OT, again)