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Seventh Heaven Is Golden for Sweden : Hockey: Forsberg’s goal brings a 3-2 victory after an overtime and six shootout rounds against Canada end in a tie.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul Kariya skated around in tight circles, knowing he alone would determine whether Canada would win the Olympic gold medal Sunday.

Three periods of hockey before 9,245 at Haakon Hall had left Canada and Sweden tied at 2, and a 10-minute sudden-death overtime had failed to separate them. They were still tied after the first best-of-five shootout round and remained even after the sixth, when two of hockey’s most promising young players took center stage.

First, Peter Forsberg--the seventh Swedish shooter--stunned Canadian goaltender Corey Hirsch with a daring, pull-back shot that gave his team a 3-2 lead. Kariya had to get the puck past Tommy Salo for the game to continue, and he had already beaten Salo in the first shootout round.

“The first time I picked the top corner, and I felt the second time, if I came back (to the same spot), he wouldn’t expect it,” Kariya said. “I had it. I just didn’t get the puck up.”

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Salo threw himself across the goal mouth, his legs scissor-kicking. When the puck bounced off his leg and out of the crease, Sweden had won its first hockey gold medal.

“Sitting in my room, just thinking about it, I always imagined playing Sweden for the gold medal,” said Kariya, selected fourth by the Mighty Ducks in last June’s NHL draft. “For some reason, it was always Sweden. I just wish it would have ended a different way.”

Both teams wished it had been decided in a different way. Neither liked the shootout, calling it a skill contest unrelated to a game like this.

“It’s not fair,” Swedish defenseman Tomas Jonsson said. “They should have sudden death until someone wins. I guess they have to settle it somehow. I was really happy when Peter scored. If he didn’t score, I was supposed to go out there, and I didn’t want to go out there.”

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Said Naslund: “The shootout is too much a case of luck, but time was running out on the Olympics, so they had to end the game.”

But the international career of Forsberg is only taking off.

Rebounding from a flat performance in Sweden’s first few games, he led his team past Germany and Russia and into the finals. His performance Sunday was better still. He initiated Sweden’s first goal, a power-play slap shot by Jonsson at 6:10 of the first period, and the tying goal, by Magnus Svensson from the blue line with 1:49 to play.

Forsberg was chosen sixth in the 1991 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, who traded his rights to the Quebec Nordiques in the Eric Lindros deal. Although his play-making skills and speed made him a star at the 1993 World Junior Championships, he has been criticized for indifferent play.

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“Sometimes he can disappear,” Jonsson said.

The four-year, $6.9-million contract he signed with Quebec intensified the pressure he carried here, but he thrived under it.

“Since Nancy Kerrigan didn’t win the gold, they should make a movie in Hollywood with him instead,” Naslund suggested. “He was unbelievable.”

As the fourth player up in the first go-round of the shootout, Forsberg had beaten Hirsch with a close-in backhander to bring Sweden even at 2-2. Petr Nedved and Kariya converted their chances before Svensson lifted a shot over Hirsch.

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Canada’s Dwayne Norris and Naslund each missed, and then Salo stopped a shot by Canada’s Greg Parks with his right pad. Forsberg succeeded, and Greg Johnson and Roger Hansson were each stopped to start another shootout round.

Hirsch forced Svensson wide to the left and stopped him, giving Nedved a chance to win the gold.

“My hair was standing on end,” Nedved said. “I went to deke and the puck just slid a little ahead of me and I couldn’t stuff it right in.”

That brought up Forsberg, who decided to try a move he had seen Kent Nilsson make for Sweden against the U.S. in the 1989 World Championships.

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“That’s a legend goal in Sweden,” Forsberg said. “I saw it on TV, and I wanted to try it, but I didn’t make it right.

“The goalie was standing on one side so much. I noticed that after the first penalty shot. So I thought about doing this. I came a little bit wrong in the beginning, but it was a goal.”

He skated in almost too close to get off a shot before he cut to his left and shifted to his backhand.

“I had him all the way,” Hirsch said. “He wasn’t going to beat me. But he made a questionable move. He kind of tight-turned. I think you’re supposed to keep moving forward with the puck, and I’m not sure he did. But it must have been legal, because they allowed it . . .

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“They’re such skilled, talented players, it’s basically 50-50 when you get into that kind of situation.”

Canadian Coach Tom Renney had no quarrel with the legality of Forsberg’s shot, but he wished the game hadn’t come to that. Renney’s team began the tournament seeded fourth, but won the silver with a 5-2-1 record. Canada hasn’t won a hockey gold medal since 1952, in Oslo.

“In my mind, being inches away from the gold medal constitutes a hell of an effort,” he said. “I’m extremely disappointed. I think our team deserves a gold medal, period.”

Said Swedish defenseman Roger Johansson, who played for the Calgary Flames last season: “I feel sorry for the Canadian guys. There should be more overtime (instead of a shootout), but what can you do? Those are the rules. We won by the rules.

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“Hopefully, there will be another team that wins the gold medal for Sweden, but this is the first time ever, and this is very special. Right from the start this year, people were on us, giving us criticism. This must be great for the coaches. Only the strong survive.”

The strongest survived the shootout Sunday.

“I’m proud of our effort. We had a great tournament,” Kariya said. “But this is a tough way to win or lose.”


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