More than a month ago, when Olympic rosters were still coming into view, Sweden’s coach offered a plain-spoken assessment of a field whose fluidity and mystery were flummoxing men’s hockey executives around the world.
“Russia and Finland,” Johan Garpenlov said, “are strong.”
They played for the gold medal on Sunday, when Finland beat Russia, 2-1, in the last scheduled competition of the Beijing Games.
The Finns did not hesitate to bring an aggressive attack to the ice at National Indoor Stadium, where they more than doubled the Russians in shots in the first period.
Men’s Gold Medal Game
Russian Olympic Committee
The Russians still managed a lead coming out of the first. But even as the Finnish pace lagged in the second, a goal evened the score, and the tournament entered its last regulation period with the game locked in a tie.
A Finnish goal in the third period, though, proved to be decisive and left the finale without some of the shootout dramatics that had dotted elimination games in Beijing.
Sunday’s contest capped an Olympic tournament stripped, for the second straight games, of current NHL players, which left many rosters largely filled with players from colleges, European circuits and other less visible leagues.
There were surprises along the way. The United States, which sent its youngest team to a Games since 1994, stormed through the preliminary round and compiled a perfect record before it lost to Slovakia in a quarterfinal game that ended with a shootout. Slovakia went on to win the bronze medal, its finest Olympic showing in men’s hockey, when it embarrassed Sweden, which nearly reached the gold medal game.
The tournament was far more suspenseful than the women’s competition, where Canada and the United States dominated, as usual and as expected. The Canadians won the gold when they beat the Americans on Thursday. Finland’s women’s team took the bronze.
But in the men’s competition, the Russian squad – formally competing as the Russian Olympic Committee as a penalty for the country’s history of doping – was a pretournament favorite, if an imperfect one.
The Russians nearly lost their first game in Beijing, a meeting with the Swiss. They later beat Denmark, which was making its inaugural Olympic appearance in men’s hockey, by two goals. The Czech Republic’s team outlasted the Russians, 6-5, to finish the preliminary round.
They still earned a spot in the quarterfinal round, where they beat Denmark again, and then survived a semifinal against Sweden on Friday night, when it took a 17-shot shootout to decide a winner.
The Finns had a somewhat smoother route to Sunday’s meeting: They pummeled Slovakia in the preliminary round, where they also beat Latvia and edged Sweden, and eviscerated Switzerland in a quarterfinal. They more narrowly beat the Slovak team in the semifinal but advanced with far less of a fight than their Russian counterparts.
But it was the Russians who scored first on Sunday. Mikhail Grigorenko, a forward who was on Russia’s gold medal-winning team in 2018 and previously played in the NHL, sliced a shot toward the net, where, with almost 13 minutes to play in the first, it streaked past Finland’s Harri Sateri.
The Finns tied the game early in the second, when Ville Pokka, a Finnish defenseman, took a shot from the rink’s edge, right in front of his own bench and just yards ahead of the blue line. The puck zipped past a Finn, a Russian and Ivan Fedotov, the 25-year-old netminder who was born in Finland but reared in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Fedotov opened the third period with more misery: Just 31 seconds in, Hannes Bjorninen redeemed an earlier penalty box stint by taking a straight-on shot at the Russian net.
When it went in, without much resistance from Fedotov, the Finnish delegation seated near the centerline erupted and raised the nation’s flag.
The Russians predictably mounted a series of fearsome, desperate tries as minutes drained from the clock.
They killed a power play with just more than six minutes remaining, keeping them – and their own ambitions – within a single shot of the Finns.
But the goal horn never sounded again. Finland, which first played Olympic hockey in 1952, would finally get its gold medal.
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Russian Olympic Committee
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