Canadian generosity may help Swedes

If the Swedish women win hockey gold today at Palasport Olimpico, they'll have the Canadians to thank, in part.

What's interesting about international women's hockey is Canada's efforts to develop the sport in other countries, including Sweden -- their opponents for the third Olympic female gold.

The Canadians have been so generous -- playing host to the Swedes and other countries on many occasions, teaching them skills and offering inspiration -- that three-time Olympian Vicky Sunohara said maybe it's time their own governing bodies kick in more.

"We would like to see their federations help them out a little bit more," she said.

"They do have the hockey players and the commitment, it's just very tough to concentrate full time and play without having a lot of funding."

Sweden made history Friday by defeating the United States 3-2 in the semifinal.

Canada and the U.S. have met in the final of every major international championship since women's hockey hit the world stage in 1990.

"This is probably the biggest thing that's ever happened in women's hockey," said Margot Page, an assistant coach with Canada who played in the first world championship, which the Canadians won. "It's huge history. It's great to see. It shows the parity of women's hockey."

Canada, who defeated Finland 6-0 in the other semi, has never lost to Sweden.

Page, a Kitchener native, said the closest the Canadians came to losing was in a pre-Olympic game in the Italian town of Torre Pellice. The score was 2-0.

She said if Canada wants to win gold, the team must concentrate on creating action in front of Swedish goalie Kim Martin, who has a 1.38 goals-against average.

"She's outstanding. You have to make her move. You have to get traffic in front of her."

Martin, who hopes to one day play in the Swedish Elite League, spoke with confidence yesterday about her team's chances of Olympic gold.

"We have beaten the U.S.; we can beat Canada."

Swedish coach Peter Elander said his team hopes to take advantage of its power plays, while not getting into penalty trouble. They will also rely on Martin, a "national hero," he said.

Elander agreed Canada has been good to his team, especially this season.

"They invited us to Canada to play three games (in December). They put us up in good hotels. In this dressing room in Canmore, Alta. . . . there were two coaches who were telling (us) about the truth about being good hockey players," he said.

One of the two coaches he referred to was one of Alberta's hockey family of Sutters, but Elander couldn't remember which one.

"It was one of the six," he said with a laugh.

Page, who has also worked as a hockey broadcaster and hockey camp instructor, wants to help develop the women's game in other countries even more.

"We have to help everybody with the direction of women's hockey. I've got some time to think about that after (today)."

Elander even married a Canadian, Charlene Varrin, who has worked as a power-skating coach with his team.

"I hope she takes away her national pride and is Swedish tomorrow," he said.

The world will see today how good the Canadians have been at teaching.