DRESDEN – No other team has won more IIHF InLine Hockey World Championships than Sweden and the United States with five golds each. One of these nations will own the undisputed record after tonight’s gold medal game in Dresden.
In the final at 19:00 local time (1pm ET), one of the four games streamed live on IIHF.com today, it will be decided whether the guys with the three crowns on the chest, or the ones wearing stars and stripes will celebrate the sixth world title for their nation with the gold medals around their necks.
The U.S. won the first two championships on home soil in 1996 Minneapolis and St. Paul, and in 1997 in Anaheim. Later Finland took over the role of the record holder with three golds between 2000 and 2003.
Sweden started a dynasty with the first gold in 2002, one in 2005 and three straight world titles from 2007 to 2009. In 2010 in Karlstad Team USA was back on top and tied Sweden for five golds on the opponent’s ground.
“We’re determined to get back to where we were a couple of years ago. We had some downs now two years in a row. It’s our turn now,” said Henrik Höglund.
He knows what he says. Last year he had to play the relegation game with his team, this time the Swedes are back in the final for the first time since 2009.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Höglund said about today’s final.
“They’re maybe not as physical, but they’re a skilled team with a lot of speed and pressure all over the field. It’s going to be a lot of skating.”
Although the Swedes don’t have a clean record due to a preliminary-round loss against Finland, they have been successful offensively. The top-three scorers and four of the top-five scorers are Swedes. Höglund has been the best goal scorer by far with 13 markers in five games.
“It’s not bad,” he commented, “but I got to save some for the final.”
And that’s exactly what the Americans want to prevent in the tournament summit against a Swedish team they haven’t played this year. They know they’ll have to play good defence.
“They’re a good team, we watched two or three games,” said American forward Matt White. “They put up a lot of goals. It’s going to be a good game, we match up pretty well. Both teams score a lot of goals so it’s going to come down to the goalie and defence.”
Like Höglund, who played ice hockey for Swedish second-tier team Karlskrona and for Esbjerg in the top Danish league and is the younger brother of former NHLer Jonas Höglund, White also plays hockey both on slides and wheels.
He’s been playing inline hockey since the age of three in his native California and started ice hockey when he was 13.
“I play both here and there,” he said. That means inline hockey in summer and ice hockey in winter.
The 23-year-old is not only among the scoring leaders with the United States’ inline hockey national team but also with the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s ice hockey team in the NCAA Division I.
And he hopes to win the first inline hockey gold for the U.S. since 2010 after the Americans had lost the gold medal game to the Czech Republic in 2011 and missed out on a medal last year.
“It feels good to be in the final. It’s my first tournament but I know the guys are upset about last year so it’s good to get to the final as a team,” White said. “Everyone played hard. We can’t complain there and now we have to stay focused.”
The U.S. have been the only undefeated team so far. They won their group with a perfect record against Canada, Slovenia and Slovakia, and defeated Germany and Slovakia in the final round.
“Nothing is given to you,” he said about the record that included some lopsided scores. “Slovakia played really hard. It was 8-4 at one point. They had us on our heels. Also in the quarter-finals against Germany it was tied. No game is easy here.”
“If we keep skating hard it will be fine.”
Crowns or Stars? In some hours we will know more.