A month ago, when the Olympic lists were still in view, the Swedish coach gave a clear assessment of a field with fluidity and mystery that fascinates men’s hockey executives around the world.
“Russia and Finland,” said Johann Karpenlov, “strong.”
They played for the gold medal on Sunday, beating Finland 2-1 in the final scheduled match of the Beijing Games.
The Finns did not hesitate to launch an aggressive attack on the ice at the National Indoor Stadium, where they doubled the Russians in shots in the first period.
Men’s Gold Medal Game
Russian Olympic team
The Russians were still able to take the lead from the top. But the Finnish pace lagged behind in second place, leveling a goal, and the match entered its final control period with the game locked in a tie.
A Finnish goal in the third period proved decisive and left the final without some shootout dramas at the point-elimination games in Beijing.
Sunday’s match eliminated the Olympic competition for the second straight games of current NHL players, leaving many lists full of players from colleges, European rounds and other less visible leagues.
There were surprises along the way. The United States, which has sent its youngest team to a game since 1994, advanced to the opening round and set a perfect record. They lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals It ended in a shootout. Slovakia won the bronze medal, its best Olympic competition in men’s hockey, almost reaching the gold medal game when it embarrassed Sweden.
The match was more suspenseful than usual for the women dominated by Canada and the United States, as expected. The Canadians won gold by beating the Americans on Thursday. The Finnish women’s team won bronze.
But in the men’s competition, the Russian team – formally competing as the Russian Olympic Committee, fined for the country’s doping history – was a premature match, if not incomplete.
The Russians, who met the Swiss in Beijing, lost their first game. They then defeated Denmark by two goals in their first Olympics in men’s hockey. The Czech Republic team defeated the Russian players 6-5 to complete the opening round.
They still got a place in the quarterfinals, where they beat Denmark again and then survived the semi-final against Sweden on Friday night, taking a 17-shot shootout to determine the winner.
The Finns had a somewhat smooth path to Sunday’s meeting: they beat Slovakia in the preliminary round, where they beat Latvia and beat Sweden, and knocked out Switzerland in the quarterfinals. They defeated the Slovak team very narrowly in the semifinals, but advanced with far fewer fights than their Russian counterparts.
But it was the Russian players who scored the first goal on Sunday. Michael Grigorenko, a former player who was part of the team that won the gold medal for Russia in 2018, previously played in the NHL, cut a shot towards the net, where, almost 13 minutes into the first game, it passed Harry Saderi of Finland.
Finnish defender Ville Boca equalized early in the second half when he took a shot from the edge of the ring just in front of his own bench and slightly ahead of the blue line. Born in Finland and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, 25-year-old webmaster Ivan Fedotov is a Finn, past Russian and Ivan Fedotov.
Fedotov opened the third period with great difficulty: in just 31 seconds, Hans Bjorninen took a straight shot into the Russian net and returned the previous penalty box stint.
Once inside, without much resistance from Fedotov, a Finnish delegation seated near the centerline exploded and hoisted the nation’s flag.
As the minutes drained from the clock the Russians mounted the frightening and desperate attempts as foretold.
They killed the remaining power play with more than six minutes left and kept them – and their own ambitions – within a single shot of the Finns.
But the Cole Horn never sounded again. Finland, which first played Olympic hockey in 1952, will eventually win the gold medal.
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Russian Olympic team
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