Journey to gold nearly complete for Sweden, Canada

Monday, 05.01.2009 / 2:46 AM / Features
By Adam Kimelman
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Journey to gold nearly complete for Sweden, Canada
Winning a championship is a journey down a long, hard path. For Canada and Sweden, their path to Monday\'s gold-medal game at the 2009 World Junior Championship (7:30 p.m. ET, NHL Network, TSN) has been full of trials and tribulations.
OTTAWA -- Winning a championship is a journey down a long, hard path. For Canada and Sweden, their path to Monday's gold-medal game at the 2009 World Junior Championship (7:30 p.m. ET, NHL Network, TSN) has been full of trials and tribulations.

For Sweden, it was coming back from a 2-1 deficit in Saturday's semifinal against Slovakia to take a 5-3 victory. For Canada, it was digging out from a 3-0 first-period hole against the United States to escape with a 7-4 victory, and then pulling another Houdini in Saturday's semifinal against Russia. Jordan Eberle's goal with 5.4 seconds left in regulation forced overtime, and then Eberle and John Tavares scored in the shootout to keep alive Canada's drive for a fifth straight WJC gold medal.

"We've had a journey," said Canada coach Pat Quinn. "We knew it was going to be a journey from the start. … It wasn't an easy trek. Championships never are. I've never been around one yet that's been an easy one. But we are where we want to be."

As is Sweden, and they'll meet Canada for the second straight year in the gold-medal game. Last Jan. 5, in the Czech Republic, Matt Halischuk scored 3:36 into overtime to give Canada the title.

In the last 365 days, Sweden has grown in confidence, and believes this year will be different. Part of that comes from Sweden's defeat of Canada in group play last year, plus the positive feeling that came from a 4-2 loss in a pre-tournament exhibition game.

"After the first period (of the exhibition game), all the coaches were happy because we said, 'We can beat this team,'" said Sweden coach Par Marts. "But in the second and third period they were a better team than us. But after that first period, the feeling inside was, we can beat Canada. We beat them last year in group play and tied in the final, lost in overtime. We can beat them again, but the guys have to play the best hockey they ever have before."

The Canada players also know they will have to bring their best effort. Sweden is led by a group of fast, highly-skilled forwards, led by Mikael Backlund and his team-best 5 goals, and Simon Hjalmarsson, who has 4 goals and 6 points. And Erik Karlsson leads the team and is tied for the tournament lead among defensemen with 9 points.

"They have a lot of skill," said Canada forward John Tavares, the tournament's leading scorer with 8 goals and 14 points. "They're a team that moves the puck well. They have a lot of chemistry, and they can do a lot of things with the puck if we're not playing our position and trying to make hope plays or risky plays."

Center Cody Hodgson said the plan is for the forwards to help out the defensemen as much as possible.

"Our third guy high is huge," said Hodgson. "We're getting too offensive-minded in the offensive zone, looking for things. Sometimes when you're on the ice your emotions get too high, you go for a goal and you sacrifice something defensively. Just get in the frame of mind to take care of the defense first and the offense will come."

If the offense comes, so will the crowd. Scotiabank Place has been a huge home-ice advantage for Canada.

"It's been a big advantage for us the whole tournament," said Tavares. "It's nice having that big support and having that crowd behind us the whole way."

Sweden's answer is a fast start to attempt to quiet the masses.

"I think we have to be ready from the start," said Karlsson. "They're going to come out hard. We just have to keep our head up and create something in the offensive zone. I think it's going to help us a lot."

Both teams believe they have the game to take home the gold, but understand the supreme effort it will take.

"It's important for those guys to play their best game ever (Monday)," said Marts. "We talked about that from early August, that the fifth of January, you're going to break your personal record by playing the best hockey you can. We talked about that step by step, that tomorrow is the time."

"We know we can play a lot better and we will," said Hodgson. "We're working out the kinks and working toward the gold medal. That was our goal the whole time, to get better every game, and we've got our best for last."