SOCHI – This may come as a surprise to some people in North America, but the Canada-USA semifinal isn’t the only one between hockey rivals that share an undefended border. And it’s certainly not the only one that will be fiercely contested, either.
Sweden and Finland have a hockey rivalry that goes back more than 60 years and another chapter will be added to it when the two countries face each other in the semifinal of the Olympic tournament Friday night. Finland has never won an Olympic gold medal, but in terms of podium finishes in the post-NHL Olympic era, Finland has been the more consistent country. Sweden has won only one medal since 1998 - a gold in 2006 in Turin - while Finland has won a medal in three of the four NHL Olympics.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Swedish veteran Daniel Alfredsson. “I saw their third period (Wednesday night) against Russia and they played disgustingly disciplined, tight defensively and waiting for chances.”
Another thing the teams have in common is both have had to deal with devastating injuries and absences. Finland started the tournament shorthanded with Mikko Koivu was injured and older brother, Saku, who likely would have been Finland’s captain, bowed out to rest up for the stretch run and playoffs. Valtteri Filppula was lost to injury before the Olympics and rookie Aleksander Barkov was injured early in the Games. Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen couldn’t compete because of injuries, then the Swedes suffered a major body blow when captain Henrik Zetterberg withdrew after the first game with a herniated disk in his back.
Sweden and Finland is always a big game and both countries have had an enormous amount of success on the world stage. Sweden won the World Junior Championship in 2013 and looked to be the odds-on favorite to repeat, but the Finns smashed their dreams by defeating Sweden on home ice to take the gold medal in 2014. And both countries have a massive hockey following. For Finland’s 2-1 overtime loss to Canada in the preliminary round, 2.1 million of the country’s five million people watched the game.
Even those who are too young to have taken part in it have memories of the clashes.
“My best memory was in the 2011 World Championship when we beat them and I was watching on television,” said Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta. “The worst one was in the (2003) World Championship when they came back after we’d been in the lead 5-1. That was one of the worst things I’ve seen.”