Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Setting up the Gold medal game from a Red Wings-centric perspective

Updated at 10:25 AM: As you might imagine, Team Canada and Team Sweden (which is not particularly concerned about the refereeing "controversy"; Daniel Alfredsson, Jonathan Ericsson, Jonas Gustavsson, Niklas Kronwall and Gustav Nyquist might be concerned as to whether they should attend a Monday-evening Swedish Olympic reception in Stockholm, however, given that the Wings play in Montreal on Wednesday and Ottawa on Thursday) are jostling verbally ahead of tomorrow's Gold medal game (7 AM EST, NBC/CBC), and while you and I are pretty familiar with Babcockian commentary, as noted this morning by ESPN's Pierre LeBrun...

The Canadians are the defending Olympic champs, having accrued the knowledge of what it takes on this stage in this exact game four years ago in Vancouver. From Sidney Crosby to Jonathan Toews to 11 returnees overall from Vancouver, these guys understand what it's going to be like Sunday.

"The reality for me is we have 11 guys play at the Olympics last time and have success," coach Mike Babcock said earlier in the tournament. "This is a new opportunity, and we've got to come up with a new identity and a new way to play for a new group. Does experience and experience in winning help? Absolutely. Do the Olympics weigh in more than the guy who played and won the Stanley Cup? I don't know that. I like guys who have won because you've been through it; you've done it right. You don't win unless you do it right."

Including a wee bit of bluster...

"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."

As well as this quip, noted by the Vancouver Province's Ed Willes...

That letter hangs in the Team Canada locker room; part of the tie that binds everyone in our country, part of our story, part of who we are, and everyone who takes the gig understands it.

“Pressure simply means you have a chance,” said Babcock. “If you didn’t have a chance, there’d be no pressure on you whatsoever. I’ll take the pressure all day long.”

The Canadian Press's Neil Davidson provides some insights into the mindset of a coaching staff we're not quite as familiar with...

Par Marts was an assistant coach in 1994 when Peter Forsberg's shootout goal earned the Swedes gold in a memorable Olympic hockey final. Marts, now Swedish head coach, says the memory of Lillehammer is long gone 20 years later as Sweden prepares to face Canada for the Olympic men's title.

"No, I've forgotten it," the 60-year-old coach said after practice Saturday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. "Of course, I remember it but I'm a dreamer. I'm looking more ahead and looking for dreams than talking old memories. I don't like that. I don't even know who we played in that Olympics. I'm not interested in this."

...

[T]he Swedes have nothing but respect for the star-studded Canadians. And they know the hockey heritage in Canada.

"Everybody realizes in Sweden recognizes that Canada and hockey goes hand-in-hand," said Alfredsson, who spent 17 seasons in Ottawa before signing on in Detroit. "There's no question about that. Hockey is a big part of Swedish sport as well, but not to the same extent. Soccer is probably ahead if you do a poll. I don't know if there is a second in Canada."

Designated the home team, Sweden will have the last line change.

"I think the Canadian team matches that stuff more than we do," said Marts. "I'm not sure if that is good because you have to let your own good players play after our schedule and not after the other team's schedule. But of course, it's good to have it."

And the Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek spoke with the player who has the surest chance of being invited back to play another season in Detroit, despite his status as a 41-year-old, one Daniel Alfredsson.

Duhatschek asked Alfredsson about his shared status as one of the "graybeard" NHL'ers and NHL alums at the Olympics, alongside Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved, all while setting up the Canada-Sweden showdown:

Alfredsson is one of only four Swedes here who won a gold medal in 2006, just the second team in Swedish history to do it. To win another “would be unbelievable,” said Alfredsson, but that was all he was prepared to concede Saturday, as Sweden went through its final practice, in preparation for Sunday’s game against Canada.

“I’m not allowing myself to think too far ahead.”

...

Alfredsson has been playing on a line with Patrick Berglund and Alex Steen, two St. Louis Blues, and is getting a chance to play again with former Ottawa Senators’ teammate Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is the opposite end of the age spectrum, just 23, the second youngest player on the team that likes experience on its blue line. Sweden left two top young NHL defenders, Victor Hedman and Jonas Brodin off the team, while Phoenix Coyotes’ emerging star Oliver Ekman-Larsson is essentially the seventh defenceman, bumped down the depth chart when Alex Edler returned from a two-game suspension to start the tournament. Edler plays mostly with Karlsson, who has eight points and a team-leading four goals.

...

“There’s no question, (Karlsson) played really well in the quarter-finals and semi-finals,” said Alfredsson. “First time being on this stage for him, it’s really impressive. Watching Canada, Drew Doughty seems like he’s been that guy for Canada. We’re going to do everything we can to stop him, and I’m sure they’re looking to target Karlsson tomorrow. It’s going to be hard, because he’s so agile and quick.”

Six of the players on the Swedish roster play for Canadian coach Mike Babcock in Detroit – Alfredsson, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyqvist, back-up goalie Jonas Gustavsson and the injured Zetterberg.

“I’m real proud of those guys,” said Babcock. “They’re good, good men and good players and they’ve done a lot of winning in their careers. It should be a lot of fun. It’s what it’s all about.  We’re here with an opportunity. Pressure simply means you have a chance. If you didn’t have a chance, there would be no pressure on you whatsoever. I’ll take the pressure all day long. It’s exciting. We have an opportunity to do something really special."

So do the Swedes, if they stick to their plan, as Alfredsson told Sportsnet's Chris Johnston:

"Our challenge is going to be breaking down their solid defence,” said Alfredsson. “The U.S. didn’t really get a lot of great scoring chances (in the semifinal). They were kept on the outside. That’s the challenge, to penetrate the neutral zone with speed and get to those second and third chances.”

Update: The Free Press's Helene St. James captured a more local angle as well:

The large contingent of Wings populating Team Sweden made sure teammates knew how well Canada would be prepared Sunday because of Babcock, who coached Canada to the gold four years ago in Vancouver.

"He really spends a lot of time working to be a good coach," Ericsson said. "He's always really early at the rink and he's always analyzing everything and he brings his other coaches with him to have their opinion about everything. He's a coach in search of perfection, I think. Very dedicated, I can say that."

Babcock enters the game scrutinized by Canadian media because Canada hasn't looked as dominant as expected through the five games it took to reach Sunday. Sweden enters the game knowing Canada was favored, and not caring. Babcock has pushed Canada to win since last summer — but Sweden coach Par Marts has been just as singular in his approach with his players. Marts is Babcock without the intensity: demanding, but calm.

"He lets the players be a lot more involved in everything, pretty much," Kronwall said. "It's a different kind of leadership."

But Babcock is happy with one of his competing players' shows of determination:

Mike Babcock had a message for Jonathan Ericsson: Great job. The two came across one another Saturday at the Sochi Games, where Babcock will coach Canada Sunday in the hockey gold-medal game against Ericsson's Sweden. Diplomatic relations between teams are the norm at the Olympic complex, but the Canada-Sweden matchup is so heavily tilted geographically towards Detroit that Babcock really did mean what he said.

“He's like, ‘Hey big E, you've been playing great, I'm going to be all over you when we come home'," Ericsson said.

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.