Can Tre Kronor defy history? In elimination games, Sweden has usually struggled against Canada. Blue-and-yellow fans know this all too well.
Now, of course, there are some great exceptions to the rule.
When the Swedes won their first Olympic gold in Lillehammer 1994, Peter Forsberg’s famous one-handed shootout goal came against Canada.
In the 2006 IIHF World Championship semi-final, Sweden built a 5-2 lead and hung to win 5-4 against Canada, a victory marred only by Mika Hannula’s vicious cross-check on Sidney Crosby. That paved the way for coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson’s men to blank the Czechs 4-0 in the final.
And at last year’s Worlds in Stockholm, Frederik Pettersson’s close-range slap shot beat Canada’s Mike Smith to win the quarter-final shootout. Coach Par Marts’s squad next beat Finland 3-0 in the semis and Switzerland 5-1 for gold. That ended the infamous “home ice curse” where no host team had triumphed since the Soviet Union did it in Moscow in 1986.
So facing Canada when everything is on the line doesn’t always spell doom for the team that typically has somebody named “Johansson” in the lineup.
But it’s usually not good news.
In the best-of-three 1984 Canada Cup final, the Swedes had some reason for optimism after defeating Canada 4-2 in the round-robin in Vancouver, with starting goalie Peter Lindmark making 29 saves. That was their first victory over the Canadians on North American ice since the 1962 IIHF World Championship in Colorado Springs, USA.
But when the two sides clashed in the final, it didn’t go well for the Swedes. Canada won the first game 5-2, and then Swedish coach Leif Boork made a strange goaltending decision for Game Two. He put in backup Gote Walitalo, who hadn’t played at all in the tournament, on the premise that Canada would be unfamiliar with the Bjorkloven netminder. But it backfired. Walitalo surrendered four goals on 10 shots as Canada built a 4-0 lead before Lindmark came back in. Despite a strong Swedish comeback, Canada won 6-5 and took the crown.
The 1996 World Cup semi-final was an epic clash in Ottawa, with Mats Sundin playing some of his best hockey ever. Tied 2-2 after 60 minutes, it required double overtime to resolve. Johan Garpenlov famously hit the crossbar behind Canadian netminder Curtis Joseph, and then Theoren Fleury scored the winner with just 13 seconds left in the period.
In 1997, Canada and Sweden hooked up in the best-of-three IIHF World Championship final in Helsinki. The Swedes took Game One 3-2, but Canada rallied for a 3-1 win in Game Two. The deciding game saw goalie Sean Burke make 31 saves while Owen Nolan scored the 2-1 winner early in the second period. Burke described it as “the best feeling I’ve ever had in hockey.”
Coach Andy Murray, who helmed Canada’s 1997 team, was back in Helsinki again for another Worlds final against Tre Kronor in 2003. This time, it was a one-game showdown, but the result was the same. Sweden grabbed a 2-0 lead on goals by Matthias Tjarnqvist and P-J Axelsson, but Canada roared back to tie it up with Shawn Horcoff and Shane Doan scoring. In a thrilling overtime, Canada’s Anson Carter got the winner on a wraparound that was video-reviewed for five minutes before being ruled good.
The Swedes had lost in Helsinki with Sundin and Forsberg, and in 2004, they fell to Canada in the World Championship final once more, with Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson, and Nicklas Lidstrom suiting up. The Swedes led 3-1 early in the second period, but Canada roared back with four unanswered goals, with Jay Bouwmeester potting the winner early in the third period.
Some things haven’t changed a lot. Just as we’ll see in the 2014 Olympic final, Henrik Lundqvist was in net for Sweden in 2004, while today’s Canadian backup, 2010 gold medal winner Roberto Luongo, stood between the pipes for Canada.
Will the result be different in Sochi? Par Marts hopes so.
Marts was an assistant coach in Lillehammer 1994. But more recently, he tasted the pain of falling 3-2 in overtime to Canada in the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship final (along with 2014 Olympians Jhonas Enroth, Carl Hagelin and Patrik Berglund) and 5-1 to Canada in the 2009 World Junior final (along with Erik Karlsson and Marcus Johansson).