Swede success

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- Sheldon Souray spent the season in Sweden. He gets it.

He knows how the Swedish fans are down on their national team beyond belief. He knows what this tournament is about for Tre Kronar. He knows there is more pressure on Sweden in this tournament than even Team Canada going for a three-peat.

He knows that despite the fact Sweden and Canada went through their preliminary round pools undefeated and meet today in a big game, it really isn't about this game, it's about the last one next Sunday.

Enough with being in the final and the final four. Sweden has done that more consistently than any other country in the world at the IIHF World Hockey Championships. It's about not having a phenomenal failure at the end.

SO CLOSE

"Every year they get so close,'' said Souray.

In Sweden, that's starting to play like it always has played in Canada.

"There is a real hunger to win this year.''

It's the reason the Swedes bounced Hardy Nilsson and deep-sixed the "torpedo'' style of play to get back to the game Sweden used to play.

Bengt-Ake Gustafsson is now the coach of this team which, since 1992, has won three gold, six silver and four bronze and in the last 15 years have made the final four all but twice.

"Unfortunately our fans mainly remember and have very strong feelings about our recent failures in big games,'' Gustafsson went on record prior to the start of the tournament.

"The games which hurt the most was the Olympic loss to Belarus, the two gold medal defeats to Canada these last two years and the 6-1 loss to the Czech Republic in the World Cup of Hockey.

"Everyone in Swedish hockey is constantly reminded of those games. That we really have an impressive resume in international hockey doesn't seem to matter a lot.''

Swedish writers will also be reminding them that they haven't defeated Canada at this tournament in the new millennium.

Souray says he really doesn't think it's the old chicken Swede thing.

"Being over there I know there is a lot of talent and a lot of character,'' says the native of Elk Point, who, way back when there was NHL hockey, was a Montreal Canadien.

"I know we'll be aggressive,'' he says of tonight's game, which will go a long way to deciding who gets either Switzerland or Kazakhstan in the crossover game instead of the Czechs, Russians or Slovakians.

And he says, for the most part, they're not the chicken Swedes he grew up believing them to be.

"I wasn't ready for that this year,'' he said. "What I found out is that the refs don't like the rough stuff as much as the players. I didn't find that they were players who were not sticking up for each other. I didn't see any of that.

WHO ISN'T ON THE TEAM

"Having had the chance to play over there this year, I know the fans have been talking more about who isn't on the team than who is on the team. It's much like it was when our team was announced in Canada,'' said the player who considers himself the biggest benefactor of guys like Scott Neidermayer, Chris Pronger and Eric Brewer saying no to Canada this year.

He says Sweden, a team which pounded Finland 5-1 despite not having the likes of Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Markus Naslund and Nicklas Lidstrom, is a group of players much like the Canadians. "They're happy being here playing for Sweden and they are very hungry.''

Souray played with Farjestad this year, Brendan Morrison with Linchoping and Dan Boyle with Djurgardens.

"I went over more for lifestyle and the fact that I've missed almost two of the last three seasons. They're good. And they desperately want to win this.''


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