Battle for hockey supremacy

"?Experience is a big thing in hockey," Sweden's Johnny Oduya of the defending Cup champs in Chicago said Saturday. "We talked about a couple of things. Obviously, last year, too, in Chicago, when there were games like this going down, the more experienced guys talked a little bit about their feelings and what they're thinking and stuff like that, and we kind of do the same thing here.

"I think maybe the Canadians are doing the same thing, too. They have a lot of guys that have been around. Just the anticipation and some of the nervousness, too, I think that's part of it, and something that you want. It would be weird otherwise."

Sunday's game pits a lot of winners on the same ice, and it also features the two teams that were picked most to win the gold medal here.

No offense to Team USA or Russia, or Finland for that matter, but the vast majority of media on both sides of the ocean were leaning toward Canada or Sweden, and with good reason.

The Swedes are the masters of big-ice championships, also winning the gold over Canada at the 1994 Olympics. Swedish head coach Par Marts was an assistant coach on that '94 gold-medal team.

"Of course I remember it, but I'm a dreamer; I'm looking more ahead and looking for dreams than talking old memories," Marts said Saturday. "I don't like that. I don't even know who we played in that Olympics. I'm not interested in this. I want [to look] forward. That's my style."

Team Canada, meanwhile, from top to bottom, has the deepest and most talented lineup in this tournament.

This is the game that was supposed to happen. The cream rose to the top.

Another interesting thing is that Sweden and Canada got criticized by their own fans and media for not doing enough offensively in the lead-up to the semifinals.

"For people to realize it, the media's going to have to realize it first. International hockey, it's always tough games. I don't think you've seen a blowout game this tournament," Swedish star Daniel Sedin said Saturday. "I mean, Canada beats Austria 6-0. That's kind of it. Otherwise, it's been 4-2, 3-2, 2-1. Once the media starts to understand that, then I think the public starts to understand it, and then we're good."

The reality of big-ice hockey on this side of the ocean is that there are fewer goals scored, not more, contrary to popular belief among so many fans who would like the NHL ice surface to get bigger. It's more defensive because the offensive zone is four feet shorter and because the big ice scares players into taking fewer chances and not wanting to get caught up ice. So they stay in position and don't run around.

Both Sweden and Canada put the majority of their game-plan emphasis on defending. It's why they're both in the gold-medal game.

This isn't the NHL over here.

"It's a different sport," Sedin said. "You can't even compare them. Everyone thinks because it's a bigger ice, it should be more open. I think teams are playing more defensive than ever."

As such, expect a low-scoring game Sunday. Which should not be confused with boring.

I think we're in for the best hockey game of the year, on either side of the ocean.

And for Team Canada, a chance to make it three gold medals in five NHL Olympics.

"It's about hockey supremacy," Babcock said Saturday. "We like to brag that it's our game? If you think it's your game, you better show it's your game."

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