Sunday is the conclusion of the 2011 IIHF World Championships, and both medal games are between nations that have battled each other for Olympic gold since NHLers started playing in the Olympics in 1998.
The gold medal game is an all-Nordic rematch of the 2006 Olympic final, with Finland taking on Sweden. Sweden won the ’06 gold over Finland by a score of 3-2, after Nicklas Lidstrom scored the game-winner just ten seconds into the third period. Sweden’s other two goal scorers also were eliminated by San Jose on Thursday night, as Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall rounded out the scoring for the ’06 gold medalists. Henrik Lundqvist backstopped the victory. But none of those players will be used in the upcoming game against Finland, as Detroit’s season lasted too long, and the Swedes have done just fine with 28-year-old Viktor Fasth between the pipes. Finland will no doubt want to exact some revenge for the ’06 silver medal that they didn’t truly want. Also of note: these two nations will split the hosting duties at next year’s IIHF World Championships. It will be interesting to see which one does so as defending champs.
The bronze medal game is between Russia and the Czech Republic. The two faced off for the 1998 Olympic title in a game that was won by Dominik Hasek and the Czechs by a score of 1-0. While memories of that game have faded a bit, there is something to a bronze medal game, as nobody wants to finish in the highest spot that goes home empty-handed (4th place). It should be a good game, as both teams are sporting multiple NHL players, and it will likely be Ondrej Pavelec, the Atlanta Thrashers’ starting goalie, against Konstantin Barulin, a man who was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2003 but never wanted to leave his native Russia. It is worth noting that despite a wide range of opinions on Ilya Kovalchuk’s value to his NHL teams over the past ten years, the Russian has been money for his country in the IIHF Worlds. He and Alex Ovechkin will lead Russia against a Czech team sporting the NHL likes of two Michaleks, Tomas Plekanec, Patrik Elias, Martin Havlat and Michael Frolik. But none of those players can yet match the total skill of 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr, whose name is once again being thrown around in reference to a potential return to the NHL. I don’t think it will happen, as Jagr has stayed in the KHL the last couple of summers despite wide-ranging rumors of his desire to return to North America. But as far as the bronze medal game goes, Jagr could be the difference. That is, of course, if he can avoid being destroyed by Ovechkin, as he was in the 2010 Olympics. Click that link if you forgot about that hit, or if you want to relive it.