February 22, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Red Wing-laden Sweden out to solve Canada's defense in men's hockey final

Sweden defenseman Erik Karlsson reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the second period of a men's semifinal Friday. Sweden, which has five Red Wings players on its roster, plays Canada Sunday for the gold medal in men's hockey. (Petr David Josek / Associated Press)

Sochi, Russia – Sweden is not much worried about two Canadian referees in the gold medal game Sunday.

They are used to it. They get Canadians all the time in the NHL, too.

As Canada and Sweden prepared to vie for Olympic gold Sunday, there was much talk about differing styles of play, how Canadian coach Mike Babcock and the five Swedish Red Wings are in opposition with much at stake for their countries, and the more physical style of Canada versus the great patience of Sweden.

And, oh yes, now that it has been announced both referees call Canada home, there is already an officiating controversy a day before the men's gold medal game is played, just like during play in the women's game.

This is getting almost as bad as figure skating.

But the Swedes made little of it.

"We are used to having referees from USA and Canada in the NHL," said Niklas Kronwall, captain of Sweden. "We know their standards, so I think it's easier for us too, if the referees are from there."

Kronwall's teammate, defenseman Erik Karlsson, agreed.

"I think most of the referees over there are Canadian, too," Karlsson said of the NHL. "They probably support Montreal or Toronto. But they don't make any difference."

Minds may change if there is a major blown call, of which there were a few in the women's gold medal game. But players for Canada did not see a big concern about the fairness of referees, either, regardless of country of origin.

It is true that, generally, players think when the professional reputation of an official is on the line, birthplace and residence pale in comparison.

"The officials do the best they can every game and they do not have an interest in who wins," said USA forward Patrick Sharp. "They will call the game the way they see it and do the best they can."

Immediately after Canada beat the USA 1-0 Friday, in an awesomely fast, well-played game, Babcock was asked, especially by media from Canada, about contesting the gold with so many Red Wings on the Swedish roster. It continued to be a theme, Saturday morning in the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

"I am real proud of those guys," Babcock said, echoing his comments from the night before when he praised the Wings and hockey in Sweden. "They are good men and good players and they have had a lot of winning in their careers, and it should be a lot of fun.

"That is what it is all about.

"You come here to compete and we will compete as hard as we can."

Some of the Red Wings talked about life with Babcock and going up against their coach, who is known, in part, for his intensity.

"We chat briefly," said Jonathan Ericsson, who is playing for Sweden with his brother Jimmie.

The national teams mix quite a bit in and around both the Olympic Village and the Bolshoy. In fact, they say it is one of the more enjoyable parts of the Games.

"He's like, `Hey, Big E!' " Ericsson said of Babcock.

"I'm like, `Yeah, hey, how're you doing?'

"And he's like, `Well, you've been playing great. I'm going to be all over you when we come home!' "

Kronwall said Babcock is all about hard work and preparing his teams.

"He's incredibly prepared,” Kronwall said. “He spends endless hours on the rink every day, going through videos, doing everything to win."

Daniel Alfredsson, appearing in his fifth Olympics, said socializing is one thing, game time is another.

"I've been part of world championships and Olympics before and you might say hi today at dinner, but tomorrow it's all business.

"They're red and white and we're blue and yellow."

They also are two teams possessed of contrasting styles, although Babcock's ability to instill defensive play into what is essentially an all-star team of potent offensive players and the great speed Canada exhibited against the USA Friday makes for some similarities.

As fans of the Red Wings have noted over the years, the Swedes think defense first and bring a lot of skill.

"They play really tight," Alfredsson said of the Canadians' defense. "I was impressed with their game yesterday.

"It's going to be a tough nut to crack, there's no question about that. But we hope we can use our puck possession and speed in the neutral zone to generate some more chances."

Perhaps too much is made of the differing styles, Alfredsson said.

"We play a little bit different, but at the same time pretty much everybody play in the NHL and has played a lot of big games throughout their careers.

"Playing in the Olympic final, I think the intensity is going to be incredible, the speed is going to be fast, and scoring that first goal could be a crucial part of the game."

Kronwall said the Swedes must reach for perfection.

"They have so many players, so much skill, so much will in that group that we're going to have to play a perfect game or else we're not coming out on top."

For Babcock, Sweden presents a challenge.

"They are real dangerous," he said. "I assume the way it works is the best teams advance, so they would have to be a really good team.

"To me, they have been organized and they have no ego and it is all about team.

"They will be hard."

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com
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