Team Canada will be looking for a fifth straight gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship on Monday, but they'll need to get past Sweden, a familiar foe.
See the action from the gold medal game, tonight at 7pm et/4pm pt on TSN, TSN HD and TSN.ca.
Canada and Sweden met in last year's championship game and Canada pulled out a 3-2 overtime win to capture the gold. The rivals took to the ice again in mid-December for a pre-tournament exhibition game with Canada coming out on top 4-2.
The Swedes were considered the pre-tournament favourite by many and, despite falling to Canada in that exhibition game, they remain confident heading into Monday's matchup. Team Sweden's Magnus Svensson Paajarvi has drawn some attention for comments he made about Team Canada. The forward told a Swedish newspaper that Canada would be in trouble if Sweden scored two quick goals.
While Paajarvi explained the comments do not mean the same thing in English as they do in Swedish, he stood by his remarks when asked to elaborate, and then he took them a bit further.
"It is not impossible to beat them," Paajarvi explained. "If we face them in the final again, we will beat them."
Team Canada defenceman Colten Teubert said he was not too concerned by the Swede's statements, and that his team would use them as motivation.
"You try not to take those things personally. That's their opinion. I mean, going into the game, we want to win," said Teubert. "I'm pretty sure every one of the guys in our dressing room has no doubt we are going to win [Monday] but that's [Sweden's] strategy and if that's how they want to play it, it's just going to give us a little fire in the belly."
While trash talk is nothing new, TSN's Bob McKenzie says he does not see anything wrong with Paajarvi's comments.
"[Paajarvi] didn't say anything incendiary, he actually gave a pretty thorough analysis of the way this tournament shakes down and how, if you can get Canada back on its heels by scoring a few goals early, they'll be in trouble," said McKenzie.
"By the same token, if Sweden gets behind early with 20,000 screaming Canadians, well then they would be in trouble," added McKenzie. "[Paajarvi] gave a balanced account of it - a fair and accurate assessment, and he didn't say anything disrespectful to anybody."
When looking at the numbers, recent history does not favour Sweden. Canada has won seven of the last eight meetings between the two sides, and their only loss over that span came in the Preliminary Round of the 2008 tournament when Sweden defeated them 4-3.
Canada has beaten Sweden in the last two gold medal games they have played at the World Junior Championship (1996, 2008) and the Swedes have never won a major international tournament on Canadian soil.
In spite of that history, the current edition of Team Sweden presents a serious challenge to Canada's gold medal streak. They are quick and very skilled, led by defencemen Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman.
Karlsson was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 1st round (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and has been quite impressive, leading Sweden in scoring with two goals and seven assists in the tournament.
There was also plenty of talk at the start of the tournament about the head-to-head battle of potential top picks in the 2009 NHL Draft: Hedman and Canada's John Tavares. The Canadian forward has had a very strong tournament, leading all scorers with 14 points (eight goals and six assists).
Heading into the final game, Tavares dismissed the relevance of any individual rivalry with Hedman.
"I know everyone looks at it but I can't really say I think about it because of the importance of this game, not for myself but for the 22 guys and the staff and the whole country," said Tavares. "Your mindset is on doing whatever it takes to win [Monday] and to be a World Champion."
Canada will start Dustin Tokarski in goal and he will face Swedish counterpart Jacob Markstrom.
Tokarski has looked shaky at times but Canada's high-powered offence has carried the team through much of the tournament. McKenzie gives Sweden the egde in goal but does have words of praise for Tokarski.
"He's a guy that just sticks around, he's got a lot of fight in him, he's got a lot of battle in him and he's got an innate sense of - when the game is on the line - that he needs to make a save," explained McKenzie.