More than a month ago, when Olympic rosters were still popping up, the Sweden coach gave a candid assessment of a field whose fluidity and ambiguity has been baffling executives in men’s hockey the world over.
“Russia and Finland are strong,” said Johann Garbinlov.
They played for the gold medal on Sunday when Finland beat Russia 2-1 in the last competition scheduled for the Beijing Games.
The Finns did not hesitate to launch a blistering ice attack at the National Indoor Stadium, more than doubling the Russians’ shots in the first period.
The Russians still took the lead from the first. But even with the Finn’s pace falling by a second, the goal equalized the score and the tournament entered the final regulation period with the match in a draw.
However, the Finn’s third-half goal proved decisive and left the finish without some of the penalty shoot-out drama that was rife in the elimination matches in Beijing.
Sunday’s competition culminated in an Olympic tournament stripped, for the second consecutive games, of current NHL players, which left many rosters largely filled with players from colleges, European circuits and other unseen leagues.
There were surprises along the way. The United States, which has sent its youngest team to the Games since 1994, swept the preliminary round and set a perfect record. Before losing to Slovakia in the quarter-finals Which ended in penalties. Slovakia went on to win the bronze medal, its best Olympic performance in men’s hockey, when it embarrassed Sweden which almost reached the gold medal match.
The tournament was much more interesting than the women’s competition, as Canada and the United States dominated, as usual and as expected. The Canadians won the gold when they beat the Americans on Thursday. Finland won the bronze medal.
But in the men’s competition, the Russian team – which was officially competing as the Russian Olympic Committee as a punishment for the country’s history of doping – was the pre-tournament favorite, if imperfect.
The Russians almost lost their first match in Beijing, a meeting with the Swiss. They then beat Denmark, who was making their debut at the men’s hockey Olympics, by two goals. The Czech team beat the Russians 6-5 to finish the preliminary round.
They still secured a place in the quarter-finals, beating Denmark again, and then survived the semi-final against Sweden on Friday night, when it took 17 penalty shootout shots to determine the winner.
The Finns had a somewhat smoother path into Sunday’s meeting: they beat Slovakia in the preliminary round, where they also beat Latvia and beat Sweden, stripping Switzerland in the quarter-finals. They narrowly beat the Slovak team in the semi-finals but led by a game well below their Russian counterparts.
But it was the Russians who scored the first goal on Sunday. Mikhail Grigorenko, a striker who was part of Russia’s gold-medal-winning team in 2018 and previously played in the NHL, curled a shot into the net, with almost 13 minutes to play in the first half, past Finland’s Harry Satri.
The Finns tied the game early in the second game, when Finnish defender Phil Buka fired a shot from the edge of the rink, just in front of his seat and just yards from the blue line. The disc was skipped by a Finnish-Russian player and Ivan Fedotov, the 25-year-old net keeper who was born in Finland but grew up in St Petersburg, Russia.
Fedotov opened the third half with more misery: after just 31 seconds, Hannes Bjorninen substituted an earlier period in the penalty area with a volley at the Russian net.
When I entered, without much resistance from Fedotov, the Finnish delegation, which was seated near the center line, broke out and raised the nation’s flag.
As expected, the Russians made a series of frightening and desperate attempts as the minutes drained from the watch.
They wiped out the power game with just over six minutes left, keeping them – and their ambitions – in one shot for the Finns.
But the goalie horn was not heard again. Finland, who first played Olympic hockey in 1952, finally got their gold medal.
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Russian Olympic Committee
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