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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Finland beats Russia 2-1 for gold in men’s hockey

Finland’s medal was its seventh in men’s hockey, but its first gold.

By Alan Blinder

More than a month ago, when Olympic rosters were still coming into view, Sweden’s coach offered a plain-spoken assessment of a field whose fluidity and mystery were flummoxing men’s hockey executives around the world.

“Russia and Finland,” Johan Garpenlov said, “are strong.”

They played for the gold medal Sunday, when Finland beat Russia 2-1 in the last scheduled competition of the Beijing Games.

The Finns did not hesitate to bring an aggressive attack to the ice at National Indoor Stadium, where they more than doubled the Russians in shots in the first period alone.

The Russians still managed a lead coming out of the first. But even as the Finnish pace lagged in the second, a goal evened the score, and the tournament entered its last regulation period with the game locked in a tie.

A Finnish goal in the third period, though, put the game out of reach for the Russians and left the finale without some of the shootout dramatics that had dotted elimination games in Beijing.

Sunday’s contest capped an Olympic tournament stripped, for the second straight Games, of current NHL players, which left many rosters largely filled with players from colleges, European circuits and other less visible leagues.

There were surprises along the way. The United States, which sent its youngest team to a Games since 1994, stormed through the preliminary round and amassed a perfect record before it lost to Slovakia in a quarterfinal game that ended with a shootout. Slovakia went on to win the bronze medal, its finest Olympic showing in men’s hockey, when it embarrassed Sweden, which nearly reached the gold medal game.

The tournament was far more suspenseful than the women’s competition, where Canada and the United States dominated, as usual and as expected. The Canadians won the gold when they beat the Americans on Thursday. Finland’s women’s team took the bronze.

But in the men’s competition, the Russian squad — formally competing as the Russian Olympic Committee as a penalty for the country’s history of doping — was a pre-tournament favorite, if an imperfect one.

The Russians nearly lost their first game in Beijing, a meeting with the Swiss. They later beat Denmark, which was making its inaugural Olympic appearance in men’s hockey, by two goals. The Czech Republic’s team outlasted the Russians 6-5 to finish the preliminary round.

They still earned a spot in the quarterfinal round, where they beat Denmark again, and then survived a semifinal against Sweden on Friday night, when it took a 17-shot shootout to decide a winner.

The Finns had a somewhat smoother route to Sunday’s meeting: They pummeled Slovakia in the preliminary round, where they also beat Latvia and edged Sweden, and eviscerated Switzerland in a quarterfinal. They more narrowly beat the Slovak team in the semifinal but advanced with far less of a fight than their Russian counterparts.

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