by Lisa Brown on 01/04/12 at 12:45 AM ET
This isn’t just a game to these players, as fans we can just say “oh they lost,” but for some of these players they will never be here again. They will never get another chance to play in front of 15, 000 fans. These young men have worked for years to prepare themselves to get to this point. And so, in the semifinal games that mean the difference between playing in the gold or bronze medal games are more emotional than even the players may expect.
Looking weary and drained, the Finnish players left the ice Tuesday night. They were a shootout goal away from playing for the gold medal instead of the bronze.
For Finnish goaltender Sami Aittokallio this loss especially hurt. Aittokallio was the Finnish player of the game, turning aside 55 of 57 shots through 70 minutes Aittokallio was playing on another level.
Although Aittokallio had a quick glove hand and seemed to make the first save with ease, it was his rebound control that seemed to be his downfall. The Swedes could have won the game in regulation if their players had been better prepared for some rebounds, but this game did come down to a shootout decision.
“I played poorly and they scored, so it’s my mistake,” said Aittokallio, barely intelligible because his voice was so soft and his face was filled with so much pain and anguish. Through sniffles and with slightly puffy cheeks, Aittokallio admitted that no one had said anything to him yet; not his coach, not his teammates.
Aittokallio knew that he had played a nearly perfect game, “But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to win and we lost, so it wasn’t enough…I wanted to win a gold medal and it hurts.”
As Aitokallio spoke, a hush fell over the small area that surrounded him. No one seemed to know what to say, and no one wanted to make the young man suffer any longer than he needed to. Besides, Finland may not be playing for gold, but they definitely have another big game ahead of them.
The mood in the Swedish dressing room was decidedly different, but Swedish head coach Roger Ronnberg knows that now is not the time to celebrate and get too far ahead of themselves.
“It was a hard game to coach, a hard game to play for the players.” Ronnberg admitted. But, despite the upcoming challenges, “I’m really impressed with the character of the guys to turn this game around.” Not every team at this tournament would have been able to find the tying goal with 44 seconds left in the game.
It should come as no surprise that it was young Max Friberg who scored the game tying goal. Friberg has been a game changer for Sweden, and although a tournament such as this is different from playing with a team on a regular basis, Anaheim Ducks fans must be getting more and more excited about this fifth round pick.
Friberg tries to be a leader on the ice more than the dressing room, and he knows that this tournament may help to bring more attention his way, but it will be his play in the regular season that will matter more. According to Ronnberg, the key to Friberg’s success is “His character; he’s a hard working kid. He works hard and he’s not the most skillful guy, but he’s a hard working game.”
For Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Oscar Klefbom, this game was once again perfect. Not only did his team win and will now play for the gold medal Thursday night, but Klefbom was also named player of the game for Sweden.
Klefbom is more than aware of the fact that Oilers fans are eagerly watching his performance and anticipate his move to the NHL, and that only makes this experience and this win here in Canada that much sweeter.
Although Klefbom’s team didn’t get off to the swiftest of starts, Klefbom still believes that the day off was important. Any slow start should be attributed to “The mental stuff. I think that the day off was good for our bodies. I think that it was mental at the beginning of the game but we had a really good third period so right now we just focus on the final.”
Knowing that Sweden may be playing against Canada doesn’t seem to bother the team or Klefbom. Afterall, Sweden has beat both teams, Canada in the pre-tournament and Russia on New Year’s Eve. And so, “It doesn’t matter if it’s Canada or Russia; we’re going for the gold.”
Leaving the arena, “It feels awesome so we just try to focus on the final.”
Finland will face the loser from the Canada Russia game, and Sweden will play the winner.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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