May 19, 2006

Canada in the way of Sweden’s golden double

By Steve Keating

RIGA (Reuters) - Olympic champions Sweden face their
biggest hurdle yet in their quest for an unprecedented golden
double when they clash with Canada at the world championships
semi-finals on Saturday.

In the other tie defending champions Czech Republic take on
Olympic silver medallists Finland, who would like nothing
better than a chance for revenge on their Nordic rivals in
Sunday's final.

A win over Canada would leave the Swedes on the brink of
hockey history. World championships and Olympics have been
staged in the same year six times since 1972 without any
country winning them both.

With seven members of their Turin gold medal-winning team,
Sweden have the edge in experience against a young Canadian
team led by Pittsburgh Penguin rookie Sidney Crosby.

Controversially left off the Canadian Olympic team by Wayne
Gretzky, the 18-year-old has seized his chance to shine on the
international stage leading Canada and the championship in
scoring with seven goals from seven games.

Partnered with Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron and Brad
Boyes, Crosby has been the linchpin of Canada's most productive
line, the three players combining for a total of 35 points.

"You just worry about the team," said Crosby. "You always
want to contribute but it takes a team effort.

"We're just working hard. We don't go out there expecting
things to happen, we have to work for it. We know we're up
against a great team that has been playing great all


Overshadowed by Canada's explosive offensive display has
been some sharp netminding by Columbus Blue Jackets Marc Denis.

Like Crosby, Denis has saved some of his best performances
for the international stage. He helped Canada to the 1996 and
1997 world junior championship gold medals and has a perfect
4-0-0 record heading into Saturday's match.

"Sweden is the defending Olympic champions and a very solid
team," said Denis. "I love games like this, someone is going
home and someone will celebrate. That's the way it should be."

Offensively Sweden rank second only to Canada, depending on
a balanced attack without player among the top 10 scorers.

While the Canadians and Swedes reached the semis with
offense, the Finns have been getting the job done with defense
allowing just 10 goals in seven games.

The Finns' medal chances looked to be dealt a severe blow
when their first choice netminder, Philadelphia Flyers' Antero
Niittymaki, went down with a thigh injury after Monday's match
with Canada in the qualifying rounds.

Niittymaki, who was named the Olympic's most valuable
player after posting three shutouts to help Finland to the
silver medal, had been making a strong bid for world
championship MVP honors, recording two shutouts in his three

But backup Fredrik Norrena has proven to be a more than
adequate replacement, earning Finland another shutout in the
3-0 quarter-final win over Belarus.

After a slow start to the tournament the Czech Republic
have begun to show their pedigree, booking their place in the
last four with a gritty 4-3 overtime win against unbeaten