Sweden has had the better tournament to date, no doubt about that. It went undefeated in four games in the preliminary round, and easily knocked off the Czechs in the quarter-finals. They lead all teams with 25 goals in five games. The Russians won two and lost two in the first round and beat the Swiss less convincingly, 3-1, in the quarters.
But we know how the Russians work. They get better and better, work their way slowly into a tournament, and then, wham! They win gold. Well, sometimes, anyway.
Their biggest problem is that the Swedes have no weakness. Goaltender Hugo Alnefelt has a 1.47 goals-against average, allowing just six goals in four games. The defence is led by Rasmus Sandin and Victor Soderstrom, and the offence has the top two scorers in the tournament in Nils Hoglander (10 points) and Samuel Fagemo (9). They have 10 power-play goals, second only to Canada (11). Bottom line – the team seems impenetrable.
The Russians have been less reliable in goal, but it appears 17-year-old Yaroslav Askarov will play the rest of the way. He will have his hands full keeping up with Alnefelt, though.
Alexander Romanov has been a stud on defence, and the Russians have also allowed just nine goals in five games (the Swedes, eight). But the offence has been hit and miss. Some nights, they’ve been dynamite, full of imagination and success; other nights, the connections aren’t working.
No Russian has more than three goals (Dmitri Voronkov), but five players have six points, suggesting the offence is spread out and nicely balanced. As well, their penalty killing is number one, having allowed just three PP goals against. Indeed, any of the top three lines can score. The question is, will they?
Advantage Sweden. But rule out Russia at your own peril.
A week ago, Canada looked to be in a shambles. It suffered its worst defeat ever, to Russia, 6-0. Goalie Nick Daws looked weak. There was helmet-gate, when captain Barrett Hayton forgot to take his helmet off during the Russian national anthem. Alexis Lafreniere went down early in the second period with what looked like a pretty serious knee injury. And, star forward Joe Veleno was suspended a game for a controversial head-butt.
Fast forward to today. Joel Hofer has come in and played very well in goal. Lafreniere is back, healthy. Helmet-gate and the suspension are in the rear-view mirror. Canada is scoring and winning, playing an incredibly aggressive, puck-chasing game that has the other team on its heels. Canada is second with 23 goals to date and leads the tournament with 11 power-play goals. In short, look out!
The goaltending is now solid, and the defence is anchored by Kevin Bahl, a 6’6” behemoth with agility. Up front, Lafreniere and Veleno are joined by Hayton and Dylan Cozens to create a team that can score plenty of goals. And, of course, there is the “Canadian factor.” That desperation, that determination, that will to win. That is inherited, and it has real value.
Finland, however, just knocked off the U.S. with a perfectly-played 1-0 win. Suomi won gold last year and at every level seems to be coming into its own, not intimidated by Sweden, not by Canada, not by anyone. And, remember, they beat Canada in OT last year en route to gold.
Justus Annunen might be the best goalie here. He has allowed just eight goals in four game and made more saves (117) than any goalie so far. The Finns have outscored their opponents 20-10 through five games and have proved to be resilient.
Up front they have Kristian Tanus (8 points), Patrik Puistola (7), and Joonas Oden (6). Like Sweden, they can score, defend, and play any kind of game.
It’s a toss up. But let’s give the slightest of slight edges to…Canada.