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Fiery Swedish-Finnish rivalry set for World Cup

Mikael Backlund and Jyrki Jokipakka sound off the rivalry between Sweden and Finland

by Evan Sporer @ev_sporer / CalgaryFlames.com

TORONTO, ON -- How bad did it get?

"I was watching with a buddy, and he almost wanted to throw the TV out," Mikael Backlund said.

The year was 2003, and Backlund was 14 years old. It was early May, and the IIHF World Championships were in the quarterfinal round.

Backlund's native Sweden was set to play its archrival, Finland.

"It's always been like that," Backlund said. "Our countries are right beside each other."

Things got off to a good start for Backlund's rooting interest; 4:45 into the first period, Mats Sundin gave the Sweden a 1-0 lead.

But the game quickly tilted in Finland's favor, as five consecutive Finnish goals over a span of 19:13, including a hat trick by Teemu Selanne, turned a one-goal lead into a large deficit.

Certainly cause for throwing out one's television.

"My mom is actually Finnish, so she was texting me during the game and giving me a hard time," Backlund said.

But luckily for Backlund, and his friend, no televisions were harmed in this story, and instead, they witnessed history.

Sweden would go on to score five consecutive goals of its own over the final 32 minutes of game time to stage a dramatic comeback, the exclamation point a tie-breaking, game-sealing goal scored by P.J. Axelsson with 4:54 remaining in regulation.

"After the game, I gave (my mom) a hard time," Backlund said.

Not even mothers and sons are immune to the Swedish-Finnish rivalry, which will write its latest chapter in Toronto when the countries face off in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

"When we play against them, it's going to be fun," said Jyrki Jokipakka, Backlund's Calgary teammate-turned temporary rival until they trade in their respective country's sweaters for a Flames jersey.

Backlund and Jokipakka actually took the same flight to Toronto but didn't realize so until they arrived at the airport.

They didn't sit together, perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps subconsciously preparing for a rivalry Backlund compared to the Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.

"We are allowed (to talk)," Backlund said. "I don't know if I want to talk to him, but he's a good guy."

After the flight landed, they chatted in the terminal and then traded playful jabs on media day before the 2016 World Cup kicked off.

"I think we used to own part of Finland or, I don't know the whole history, something like that," Backlund said. "They're kind of a little brother, but they always want to beat us, so it's always been a big rivalry. They're always fun games."

While Jokipakka was a late addition to the Flames last season, a trade deadline acquisition, Backlund was a late addition to the World Cup. He was named as an injury replacement September 1, replacing the injured Henrik Zetterberg.

"Coming in as the last guy I wasn't sure if I was going to get to play or not, but I look at it as a better way to prepare for the season than playing shinny back in Sweden and Calgary before camp," Backlund said. "We'll see now, hopefully I get to play, and that would be a great way to get the season started. To play at the highest level right away, and then hopefully we go deep in this tournament, and then jump right into the season."

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"He's a good player. He's pretty poised with the puck, and a good skater for his size. It was a good addition for our team. Watching him these first few games for Finland I thought he played with a lot of confidence. Hopefully, he can build off this tournament and be a big part for us this year." - Backlund on Jokipakka

"It's always been like that. Our countries are right beside each other, so it's always been a big rivalry. Almost like Calgary-Edmonton. I think we used to own part of Finland or, I don't know the whole history, something like that. They're kind of a little brother, but they always want to beat us, so it's always been a big rivalry. They're always fun games." - Backlund on the Sweden-Finland rivalry

"My group age, Finland wasn't that good in World Juniors, so no big memories there. Just growing up watching games I remember a Sweden comeback that, they were down 5-0 in Helsinki in the World Championships and won 6-5. That was a pretty exciting game actually watching. My mom is actually Finnish, so she was texting me during the game and giving me a hard time. After the game, I gave her a hard time. I was watching with a buddy, and he almost wanted to throw the TV out after it was 5-0. It was a big game, and a game that sticks out for me." - Backlund on his early memories of the rivalry

"I'm just really excited to represent my country at the highest level. I played in a few World Championships, but it's not the same. The best players in the whole world are going to be here now. It's going to be a great tournament, and I'm really excited about it. Playing in Toronto too is going to be great. Being in Canada, it's going to be awesome." - Backlund on the World Cup of Hockey

"I really liked my time in Calgary last year, and I'm excited to get back there. We have a good young team and a new coach, and it's a new start for everyone. Everyone is really excited to start the new season." - Jokipakka on the Flames

"To play against Swedes, you always want to win against them, and it's fun." - Jokipakka on the rivalry

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