CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 3: Max Frieberg #14 of Team Sweden celebrates his game tying goal with team mate John Klingberg #9 during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Semifinal game at the Saddledome on January 3, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. against Team Finland Team Sweden defeated Team Finland 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Tonight the fans in southern Alberta will get a chance to see some of the top young talent in the game. I hope they appreciate this opportunity, even if they aren't wearing the jerseys they were necessarily hoping to see. Both Sweden and Russia have incredibly deep rosters, full of scoring talent, top flight skaters, baby-faced star 17 and 18 year olds as well as returning veterans leading their teams to this moment. Players playing for national glory, in the biggest game of their young lives to date. Some will go on to great things, others might never experience anything quite like this again. Most of these players will become professional players of some note, and a decent amount will become solid NHL or international players. A couple of the players might even be superstars for the next decade or more. You can wish for Canada, but you can't really ask for more out of a final than what this matchup provides.
Sweden has been a dominant possession team throughout the tournament, including their New Year's Eve comeback win against Russia. They did the same against Finland, but Head Coach Roger Rönnberg knows the team needs to score early for a change and can't keep relying on late heroics. That being said, Sweden has had a comeback against them this tournament as well: Switzerland scored two late third period goals to send their game to a shootout, which Sweden won with the infamous Max Friberg goal and stick-riding celebration. Scoring first doesn't guarantee a lot in this tournament, and leading late seems to mean even less.
Russia is a team that is truly breathtaking for stretches of the game, and completely reliant on their goaltending for others. And Valeri Bragin is making a controversial move by starting Andrei Makarov over Andrei Vasilevskiy in this gold medal game. Vasilevskiy should be the tournament's top goaltender, but allowing four Canadian goals in the third period yesterday when the lead was safe seems to have soured Bragin on his budding young star. Makarov was expected to be the starter heading into the tournament, and is a year older than Vasilevskiy. He's been having a good year with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, but this is quite a leap of faith.
The tournament's likely top two forwards are facing off in this one: Max Friberg and Yevgeni Kuznetsov have led their respective teams and it could definitely come down to which of the two forwards has the better night.
In the end, I like Sweden for the gold tonight. It's been 31 years without a gold for the elite hockey nation, and I'm calling it to end tonight because of their well disciplined, well structured game. They have more talent on the blueline than the Russians, and can match forward lines with Russia, who have two key injured forwards in Mikhail Grigorenko and Ivan Telegin. The biggest issue with Sweden is Johan Gustafsson in goal, but even with that, I think Sweden will control the game for more than enough time tonight to get the win.
Enjoy the game, and I'll be doing recaps of the tournament for the next little while here, so hopefully you'll keep visiting for that.