Canada is motivated heading into gold-medal game at Sochi Olympics
SOCHI, Russia — Rugged defenseman Niklas Kronwall, captain of undefeated gold-medal finalist Sweden, plays in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings and Coach Mike Babcock, who has guided undefeated Canada to Sunday’s hockey finale. So Kronwall knows how effective a leader Babcock can be.
“Whenever you’re in a meeting,” Kronwall said, “he always seems to find the right things to say and gets the guys extremely motivated.”
Babcock has done a fine job in motivating his superstars to buy into a demanding defensive style. Although Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry haven’t scored in this tournament, Canada is in position to become the first repeat Olympic champion since the Soviet Union in 1984 and 1988.
“They want to win. It’s real simple,” Babcock said Saturday. “Sometimes I think we get a little bit confused. It’s not about who scores the goals or who blocks the shots or who plays. It’s about winning. It’s about Canada. It’s about hockey supremacy. We like to brag that it’s our game? If you think it’s your game, you better show it’s your game.”
Canada has scored 14 goals and yielded three in five games; Sweden has scored 17 and given up six. Each team has a mobile and versatile defense to supplement its offense: Defenseman Erik Karlsson is Sweden’s top scorer with four goals and eight points, while Kings defenseman Drew Doughty leads Canada with four goals and six points.
Sweden has the tournament’s most potent power play at 36.8%, compared to Canada’s 22.2%. Canada’s Carey Price has better numbers in goal — a 0.74 goals-against average, .971 save percentage and two shutouts — but Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist (1.20, .951, two shutouts) won gold at Turin in 2006.
Canada is coming off a near-perfect game, a 1-0 semifinal victory over the U.S. on Friday. How to follow that?
“Play even better,” Toews said. “I think it’s going to be our toughest game in the tournament. We’ll be ready to do that.”
Crosby said Canada’s performance against the U.S. will be its blueprint Sunday. It was “exactly the way we needed to play. We played to our strengths,” he said. “Our defensemen did a great job of coming out of our zone. Our forwards held onto the puck down low. They’ve got a lot of depth and they get a lot of offense from their defense, so if we can kind of keep them in their end, hopefully we can take a little bit of that away.”
Canada’s men’s team hasn’t won gold outside North America since 1952 in Oslo, but Crosby and his teammates are ready to change that.
“You’ve worked hard to get the opportunity to get into this game and played a lot of good hockey up to this point,” Crosby said. “So, hopefully we’ve got our best when it means the most.”
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