Behind the closed door of the locker room at Torino Esposizioni, Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, coach of the Swedish hockey team, gathered his players Tuesday and delivered his pregame address. He told them to try to beat Slovakia, defenceman Nicklas Lidström said.
Was this not like reminding a child to eat his dessert?
The skaters to whom Gustafsson was talking would seem hot-wired for success. Lidström has been named the best defenceman in the NHL three times; forward Mats Sundin is a former most valuable player at the World Championships; forward Peter Forsberg has led the NHL in scoring, and he led his country to the Olympic Gold Medal in 1994.
Sweden, which entered the game with a record of 3-1, was assured of advancing into the Olympic medal round from Group B. The team could have come out flat with nothing to play for.
The Swedes played hard in a 3-0 loss to Slovakia, but then, complacency had not been Gustafsson’s chief concern. His competitive integrity was on the line, and his team’s shutout loss did not figure to buttress it.
Gustafsson opened himself to criticism and invited intense scrutiny of his players with remarks he made Monday during an interview with Swedish television.
“It’s like choosing between plague and cholera,” Gustafsson said in the interview. “Shall we try to select our opponent, or shall we do what it takes to win and then take the opponent that comes our way?
“Shall we win or shall we play a good game to get a 0-0 result?” he added. “There are so many questions going through our heads right now. So it is difficult.”
A victory against Slovakia would have set up a quarterfinal Wednesday between Sweden and either Canada or the Czech Republic, two pre-Games favourites. Now Sweden’s next game is against Switzerland, the surprise team of this tournament.
The ripples from Gustafsson’s remarks reached across town to the Palasport Olimpico. Between periods of Canada’s 3-2 victory against the Czech Republic, the spokesman for René Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said Fasel was concerned, surprised and disappointed by Gustafsson’s comments.
Szymon Szemberg, the spokesman, said that Kalervo Kummola, the chief of the Finnish hockey association, had been sent to monitor Sweden’s effort against Slovakia. Sweden’s lineup included Forsberg, who had sat out three of the first four games to nurse a groin injury, and its number 3 goaltender, Mikael Tellqvist, who made 28 saves.
At the first intermission, with the Slovakians leading, 1-0, on an even-strength goal by Peter Bondra, Kummola told The Associated Press that he did not see anything to suggest that Sweden was trying to lose.
“It’s very important that you play hard,” Kummola said, “because people do not understand if you lose on purpose.”
Marián Hossa, a forward for Slovakia, saw things differently. “They didn’t shoot any time,” he told The Associated Press. “They made a lot of passes.”
The Swedes were outshot, 31-17. Twice in the second period they held a two-man advantage but did not score. Their best scoring chance in the period came off Lidström’s stick and clanked off the post.
“If we go out there and try to lose the game, that’s a bad thing,” Swedish forward Daniel Sedin said. “We were all focused on this game. We had a lot of chances. If that shot that hits the post goes in, we’re in the game. But when it got away in the third, we know we have a bigger game tomorrow.”
Lidström, ever the defenceman, said he was sure that Gustafsson had been joking and that his words had been taken the wrong way.
“I don’t think he intended for it to come out the way it did,” Lidström said. “I think he said it more jokingly, and it turned out to be quite the opposite.”
After the game, Gustafsson and František Hossa, Slovakia’s coach, answered questions.
Gustafsson stuck to his guns. “I got a question from the media and I answered it.” He added: “I think I didn’t say anything more than the truth. The Swiss team on paper is the weakest team. That’s a fact. I stand behind that.”
He smiled wanly. “I know I maybe have to eat my words up tomorrow,” he said.
When Gustafsson addresses his players before Wednesday’s game, the gist will be: be prepared for the Swiss to play their hearts out.
02:07 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Majeský, holding
11:21 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Surový, hooking
13:47 – 🇸🇪 PEN – Holmström, holding
15:51 – 🇸🇰 GOAL – Bondra (Šatan)
19:03 – 🇸🇪 PEN – Tjärnqvist, holding
21:56 – 🇸🇪 PEN – J. Jönsson, tripping
23:42 – 🇸🇪 PEN – Påhlsson, hooking
32:46 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Kapuš, hooking
33:07 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Bartečko, hooking
43:15 – 🇸🇪 PEN – Tellqvist, delay of game
44:01 – 🇸🇪 PEN – H. Sedin, hooking
46:16 – 🇸🇰 GOAL – Marián Hossa (Demitra, Gáborík)
49:00 – 🇸🇰 PEN – Meszároš, boarding
56:37 – 🇸🇪 PEN – Påhlsson, interference
58:58 – 🇸🇰 GOAL – Suchý (Demitra, Marián Hossa)
W: 🇸🇰 Križan (17-17)
L: 🇸🇪 Tellqvist (28-31)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇸🇰 14+8+9 = 31
🇸🇪 7+4+6 = 17
🇸🇰 Goaltenders: Peter Budaj, Karol Križan. Defence: Zdeno Chára, Milan Jurčina, Ivan Majeský, Andrej Meszároš, Radoslav Suchý, Martin Štrbák, Ľubomír Višňovský. Forwards: Ľuboš Bartečko, Peter Bondra (A), Pavol Demitra (C), Marián Gáborík, Marcel Hossa, Marián Hossa, Richard Kapuš, Ronald Petrovický, Jozef Stümpel, Tomáš Surový, Marek Svatoš, Miroslav Šatan (A), Richard Zedník.
🇸🇪 Goaltenders: Stefan Liv, Mikael Tellqvist. Defence: Christian Bäckman, Niclas Hävelid, Kenny Jönsson, Nicklas Lidström (A), Ronnie Sundin, Daniel Tjärnqvist, Mattias Öhlund. Forwards: Daniel Alfredsson (A), Per-Johan Axelsson, Peter Forsberg, Mika Hannula, Tomas Holmström, Jörgen Jönsson, Fredrik Modin, Samuel Påhlsson, Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Mats Sundin (C), Henrik Zetterberg.
|🇸🇰 SLOVAKIA (C)||vs.||SWEDEN 🇸🇪|
(since 15 Feb 2006)
||14 Nov 2005|
(+ 2 ties)
|First IHLC Meeting (SVK vs. SWE)
🇸🇰 SVK 4-4 SWE 🇸🇪 – 13 Feb 1994 – OG – Lillehammer 🇳🇴
|Previous IHLC Meeting (SVK vs. SWE)
🇸🇪 SWE 3-1 SVK 🇸🇰 – 05 May 2001 – WC – Cologne 🇩🇪
|Last IHLC Game
🇸🇰 SVK 2-1 KAZ 🇰🇿 – 19 Feb 2006 – OG – Turin 🇮🇹
|Next IHLC Game
🇨🇿 CZE 3-1 SVK 🇸🇰 – 22 Feb 2006 – OG – Turin 🇮🇹