The Swedes believed
Created their own Miracle on ice
PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
Sweden's Maria Rooth (7) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal in a shootout against the United States during the Winter Olympics women's ice hockey semifinal game Friday in Turin, Italy. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

TURIN -- Tror Ni Pa Mirakel?

Somewhere, a Swedish television announcer was uttering those words yesterday, mimicking the line made famous by Al Michaels when the U.S. upset the Russians for the Olympic hockey gold medal 26 years ago.

This time it was the women's game, but Sweden's 3-2 shootout victory over the Americans in the Olympic semifinal at the Palasport Olimpico was no less significant.

In fact, this shocker will do more for the women's game than the U.S. upset ever did for the men's.

In case you hadn't noticed, the whispers about the inequity in women's hockey had grown into full-throated complaints, with the International Ice Hockey Federation dealing with the very issue at a news conference here yesterday.

The general feeling was just two countries could play the game, and everybody was tired of seeing Canada and the U.S. beat up on the rest of them.

Well, one of the 98-pound weaklings stood up, brushed the sand from its face and swung back, landing a punch heard around the hockey world.

TODAY IS PROOF

"I've always thought a bigger heart will always beat talent," Swedish hero Maria Rooth said after scoring both her team's goals, plus the shootout winner. "Today is proof."

That heart didn't really start beating until Sweden was down 2-0. But when it did, it pumped life into a sport some have gone so far as to say doesn't belong in the Olympic Games.

After all, it had been the Canucks and the Yanks in every final of every Olympics and world championship since women began competing at this level back in 1990.

Monday night, for the first time, a country outside North America will care about the gold-medal game.

"The talk about taking the sport out of the Olympics ... after tonight, you can't really talk about that anymore," Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser said. "It's great for Swedish women's hockey and hockey in the world."

Of course, lightning isn't going to strike twice in the same rink, on the same night.

So Wickenheiser's team, fresh off watching the U.S. ship sink, blew a 6-0 hole through the Finns in the other semi.

With the U.S. out of the way, Canada's path to gold would appear to be paved smoother than ever.

But the Canadians sounded downright sorry to see their American rivals go down.

"It's a heartbreaking moment," forward Gina Kingsbury said. "We feel for them."

In 25 previous meetings, the Swedes had never even managed a tie against the Americans, outscored 187-29 in the process.

They'd been getting closer, though, and somewhere along the line they sowed the first seeds of belief.

Maybe it was while watching the movie Miracle, depicting the American Olympic gold in 1980. The Swedes say they watched that flick together at least half a dozen times leading up to the Games.

"We know Canada and the U.S. are the two giants," Swedish captain Erika Holst said. "In the movie, the Russians are the giants. It was good to see that and see that it can happen."

The night before the game, the Swedes talked about their dream of reaching the gold-medal game.

"We said we were going to make a new Miracle," Rooth said. "If everyone believes we can win, we will."

They did.

And women's hockey is no longer a two-horse race.

Thanks to what, in Sweden, will forever be known as the Mirakel Pa Is.