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Sweden goes after the home-ice curse

The home-ice curse is alive and well. Not since the Soviet Union won the World Championship in Moscow in 1986 has the host team managed to win the title in front of their home crowd.

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The curse is now 26 years old, and shows no signs of letting up. Sweden knows it only too well, having finished fourth in 1989 in Stockholm, losing the 1995 final to Finland, again in Stockholm, and finishing in the third place in 2002 in Gothenburg. But it's not just that the host doesn't win the gold. It'd take a minor miracle for, say, Switzerland or Austria, who have hosted the Worlds five times since 1986, to win it. Same goes for Italy, the host of the 1994 tournament, and Germany, who has had two cracks at the curse. Germany in fact did very well on home ice, finishing fourth in 2010, after a disappointing 2009 tournament in which it was saved from relegation only by the fact that it was hosting the 2010 tournament. Switzerland crashed at their home tournament in 2009, their campaign finished before the medal round. Russia failed even more spectacularly in 2000, when its "Dream Team" never got off the ground. Finland got ousted from the quarterfinals in 2003, despite a 5-1 lead over Sweden halfway through the game. About ten of the World Championships since 1986 have been played in nations with a very long shot at the title. And in 1988, there was no tournament because it was an Olympic year.That leaves us with fifteen tournaments in which the hosts have come in with high hopes, and gone home empty-handed. Canada won gold in Moscow in 2007, and Russia returned the favour the next year in Quebec City. What is it about the home-ice? Is the pressure too much, or is it just random variation? The players and coaches refuse to believe in a curse, or that it'd have anything to do with pressure. "Whether you succeed or not has nothing to do with the venue. Win or lose, The media will always come with a theory of why it happened, anyway," Team Finland captain Mikko Koivu said last May when Finland was still in the race for gold. "It's great that people are interested, it's not adding pressure on the players. It just motivates us more," he added. Koivu himself had won a medal in every tournament in which he represented Finland. That streak ended in 2012, on home ice. However, it is special to play in a World Championship in front of your friends, family and other fellow countrymen. That's the charm of the home-ice tournament. "I think the problem is that the team's focus is not only on the games because they have to be available for the media and the sponsors, and they have their friends and family around them. Everything is a little different," Team Sweden head coach Pär Mårts said last year. And he thought he was prepared for it. "We've talked about it with the players, and we'll try to get inside a bubble where all focus is on hockey. We'll try to become a close-knit group and spend time with each other even outside the rink. There will be rules for that," he said. "The management has to also be on its toes and not get caught up in everything the media wants us to do. Everybody will want to have a piece of us, but we just can't give it to to them if we want to win on the ice," he added. Last year the curse came back and bit Sweden, sending the team packing in the quarter-final. This year, though, the Swedes do know exactly what to expect. They know the curse so it can't sneak up on them. This year, will the Swedes be ready?
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