Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Distinct lack of hatred in Canada vs. Sweden

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In international hockey, familiarity breeds contempt. That's why Olympic battles between geographic neighbours typically turn into hyper-emotional, heated affairs.

When Russia plays Finland, old-timers in Karelia get to relive the Winter War. When the Czechs play the Slovaks, subtle tensions between the two Slavic neighbours serve as the psychological subtext for the physical battle on the ice.

Similar dynamics are at work when Canada plays the U.S., the Swedes face off against the Finns or even when the Swiss suit up for a game against the upstart Austrians.

But with Canada playing Sweden for Olympic hockey gold on Sunday morning, there isn't much of a geographic rivalry to heighten the intensity of a game between two rather even-tempered nations.

"Sweden and Canada are quite similar -- they're both graceful. You don't get that Sweden-Finland or Canada-U.S. sort of hatred. It's more of a gentleman's affair," said Andreas Runneson, a Winnipeg wine distributor and one of an estimated 330,000 Canadians of Swedish descent.

Runneson, who emigrated from Sweden, said he'll probably root for Tre Kronor, even though he's not all that enthused about the way squads representing both his homeland and adopted home are playing during the Sochi games.

"The hockey doesn't seem all that... exciting for Canada or Sweden," he said.

Both Canada and Sweden are deploying a shut-down defence, which is a bit of a departure for two hockey powers known for explosive offence, historically.

Thomas Steen, the former Winnipeg Jets centre who now serves as the city councillor for Elmwood-East Kildonan, said he's looking forward to Sunday morning -- but won't reveal his loyalties.

"I get in trouble every time St. Louis has been in Winnipeg, so no comment," said Steen, whose son, Alexander, plays for the NHL Blues as well as the Swedish national team.

Steen and Runneson are the latest in a long line of Swedes who have made the voyage from one snowy, somewhat social-democratic monarchy to another. The first Swede to make the move may have been Jacob Fahlström, a Hudson's Bay Co. fur trader who travelled to Manitoba in 1809 along with Lord Selkirk's Red River Settlers.

Two centuries later, Winnipeg continues to boast a significant Swedish population. But in the grand scheme of Canada-Sweden relations, this city is most famous for defeating the Swedes in the first Olympic hockey championship ever.

In 1920, the Winnipeg Falcons, a team made up mainly of Icelandic Canadians, defeated Sweden 12-1 in the Olympic hockey final.

The Canadians won gold that year, but Sweden didn't even get a medal, thanks to a bizarre playoff format that forced all the teams defeated by Canada to play each other.

In 1924, when Canada and Sweden engaged in a rematch in the middle of the Olympic tournament, the results weren't pretty for Tre Kronor. Sweden lost by a score of 22-0.

Sweden finally won an Olympic hockey medal in 1928, when they took silver in a tournament in which Canada took home the championship once again. This time, the Swedes closed the margin of defeat by Canada to 11-0.

As the decades wore on, the gap between the Swedish and Canadian sides diminished. By the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Canada was only able to defeat Sweden by a one-goal margin. Canada won that match 3-2 on the way to another gold medal.

Throughout the Cold War, Sweden routinely did slightly better than Canada at the Olympics. From the 1960s through the 1980s, when professional hockey players generally weren't allowed to compete in the Winter Games, Sweden medalled in hockey four times, while Canada only won three medals -- one silver and two bronzes.

Sweden finally triumphed directly over Canada in Lillehammer in 1994, when Tre Kronor won the gold-medal game 3-2 in a shootout.

After the Czech Olympic victory in 1998 in Nagano, Canada and Sweden have won every subsequent gold medal in hockey.

So maybe there really is a Canada-Sweden rivalry. It just happens to be confined to the ice, the only place the two nations really know each other.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 A4


Updated on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:52 PM CST: adds umlaut to name

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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