The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/20/14 at 05:02 PM ET
Updated 3x at 6:25 PM: Minus oodles of foreign-language translation, let's just say that the Finns and Swedes have something of a contentious history, and as such, tomorrow morning's semifinal between the "Teemu Forever" crew and the Red Wings' Swedes (7 AM EST on NBCSN and TSN; the U.S.-Canada game will air at 12 PM on NBCSN and the CBC) might be nearly as scrappy as today and tomorrow's border battles between the Americans and Canadians.
Team Sweden captain Niklas Kronwall told ESPN's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun that the countries have a very passionate rivalry...
The two nations have a long history with each other. As Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall put it: "It goes way back, obviously. The two countries have always competed in everything; in sports in particular. I think it's hard for people outside to really understand what the rivalry is all about." And while the Swedes boast greater talent with stars Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqvist, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Sedin, the Finns are not to be trifled with. Just ask Russia.
And for the present moment, both Daniel Alfredsson and Kronwall (joined in the fight by Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyquist and goalie-caddy Jonas Gustavsson) told Burnside that the Tre Kronor's ("Three Crowns") status(es) as both an under-the-radar and slowly-improving team will hopefully continue on their present trajectories:
[W]ith the attention of the hockey world diverted to Canada's lineup dilemmas, the Russian arsenal failing to launch after their emotional tilt with the U.S. last Saturday and the impressive play of the Americans, the Swedes got pushed further and further off the Olympic radar.
"Please keep it that way," said veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson shortly after the Swedes shut out upstart Slovenia 5-0 in the first of four quarterfinal games Wednesday.
"I think there's a reason you talk about those big three, especially us, too, with some of the injuries we've had," said Alfredsson, who collected an assist on the first goal of the day -- a Swedish power play late in the first period. "But we're just going to plug along and take each game as it comes, and I don't think anybody wants to look too far ahead. But it's a great feeling knowing that we're in the semifinals and gear up here for a big effort on Friday."
Although the Swedes have been living off their power play, leading the tournament in man-advantage productivity, they have struggled somewhat to generate offense at even strength in the tournament. At least until Wednesday when they scored four times playing 5-on-5 all in the third period.
"There's a lot of things that we can work on," said acting captain Niklas Kronwall, who picked up an assist on Wednesday. "I thought tonight our neutral zone was better. I thought tonight was a step in the right direction. We played with more energy. We haven't played our best yet, I think we all feel that. But I thought tonight was a solid game right through."
I could give you more roughly-translated Swedish, but that's basically what the Swedes said today.
Whatever happens on Friday, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan reports that the Wings Olympians' teammates will be watching thanks to an "off day":
It doesn't get any better for hockey fans than Friday, with two huge games in the Olympic men’s hockey semifinals. And at this point, the Red Wings players who aren't competing in Sochi, Russia, will be spirited fans watching USA-Canada and Sweden-Finland on Friday morning. Conveniently, the Red Wings won't skate Friday. But, oh yes, they'll watch.
"Thank God we have the day off," said Jakub Kindl, echoing the thoughts of many in the Red Wings’ locker room. "I'll be interested and excited to see those two games."
A quick sampling around the Red Wings locker room indicates Team USA appears capable of winning twice this weekend and earning a gold medal.
"They won silver in Vancouver (in 2010, with Canada winning the gold), there's a lot of returning players, good talent, good players, great goaltending," said Daniel Cleary, listing all of USA's positives. "But what do I know?"
Update: DetroitRedWings.com's Andrea Nelson also spoke with the Wings' players regarding Friday's excitement:
“Yeah, it’s a lot of talk between the Swedes and Finns,” said Munkedal, Sweden native Joakim Andersson. “They teach Swedish in school so we always say they’re the little brother, but I don’t know, they have a good team and we have a good team as well. They got a lot of injuries before the tournament but they always get a good team together and work hard for each other.”
Teemu Pulkkinen, who was recalled from the Griffins to participate in Detroit’s practices this week, wasn’t so quick to agree.
“That’s what the guys said; I don’t know about that,” the Vantaa, Finland native said.
The second game features a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, as the Americans seek revenge against Canada for Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in overtime that ended the USA’s Olympic dreams four years ago.
“It’s going to be a very good game,” said Drew Miller, whose brother Ryan is the backup goaltender for Team USA. “I think U.S wins, I’m a little bias, but I think the four teams that are left are all good teams. In a single-game elimination it’s anyone’s tournament now.”
The USA, who has outscored its opponents 15-4 through four games in Sochi, is the favorite among the Wings players in Friday’s game despite the tough challenge the defending gold-medal champions present.
“It’s been great,” forward Justin Abdelkader said of the USA’s performance. “Team USA has really been playing well. They’ve played the best out of any team in the tournament but they’re going to have a tough match against Canada. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Update #2: MLive's Ansar Khan also spoke to the Wings' players about Friday's showdowns:
“Canada-U.S. will be a great game and then you have the obvious long-running rivalry of Scandinavia with Sweden-Finland and a lot of history there,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “A good couple of games; pretty exciting.”
As for predictions, players naturally pick their own country. So how does a neutral party see things?
“I really like Team USA,” defenseman and Czech native Jakub Kindl said. “I think they’re big guys, they can skate and they can hit; they play heavy and they’re also very skilled. So I like U.S.”
Americans Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser concur.
Red Wings assistant coach Tom Renney was Canada’s head coach at the 1994 Winter Olympics, the last tournament before NHL players began participating.
“With the best players and ultimately the best teams in the world playing, it just doesn’t get any better than this,” Renney said. “Where it ends up, who’s to say?
“It would come down to goaltending, I imagine, maybe a call here or a miss-call there. If I’m either of the North American teams I would certainly want NHL refereeing. But I think it’ll be a great day of hockey and certainly the whole idea behind these guys being at the Olympic Games in the first place is to sell the game globally and I think mission accomplished.”
Update #3: The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness also took note of the Wings' Olympic chit-chat:
“It’s been great,” Justin Abdelkader said. “Team USA has really been playing well. They’ve played the best out of any team in the tournament but they’re going to have a tough match against Canada. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Sweden, who still has five Wings left on their roster, faces Finland in the other semi.
“All four teams that are left, any of them can win it,” Danny DeKeyser said. “It should be some good hockey. Looks like the U.S. has been the most impressive so far but there’s so many good players on all the teams, if you make it to the semis or the finals you got a chance, so any of the teams could win it.”
As for predictions.
“USA, of course,” Abdelkader said. “I think Sweden’s pretty tough, I could see them winning, but Finland’s been the surprise team of the tournament, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled it out.”
“I’m going to go with Sweden and USA,” Cleary said. “(Then) USA.”
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