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Mats, Sweden Win Big

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

February 15, 2006

TURIN, Italy (CP) -- Hoping to put the disappointment of past Olympic men's hockey tournaments behind them, Sweden made a good start with a 7-2 victory over Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

Daniel Tjarnqvist of the Minnesota Wild scored twice for Sweden with singles coming from Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators, Mats Sundin of the Toronto Maple Leafs, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, and P.J. Axelsson of the Boston Bruins. Sweden had a 34-14 shots advantage.

"We were ready to play from the beginning, that's the biggest thing we take from this win,'' said Alfredsson. "It was hard because the ice was not the best out there.

"We were sloppy at times with passes but the puck was bouncing all the time and it was tough to make plays.''

The Zamboni broke down and overflooded the ice during the second intermission. That's when Kazakhstan got one of its goals. The puck got stuck in a pool of water as Christian Backman of the St. Louis Blues tried to lug it out of Sweden's zone. Backman fell, and Yevgeniy Koreshkov scored on a breakaway.

Nik Antropov appeared to score Kazakhstan's other goal on a deflection although it was initially credited to Vladimir Antipin.

Skating against Sundin was a weird experience, Antropov said.

"I've been seven years playing with him in the NHL with the same club and it's kind of strange (to play against him),'' said Antropov. "We talked on the ice a little bit.''

He wasn't about to rough up his buddy.

"We've got 25 more games to play (in Toronto) and he's our leader so . . .''

With NHL stars such as Alfredsson and Sundin leading the way, a hot young goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, and new coach Bengt Ake Gustafsson bringing a fresh approach, the Swedes have the components to make a strong run.

The Swedes are due for a favourable outcome after making early exits from the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, when they didn't even get to cross the Atlantic for the playoffs, and the 2002 Olympics, when they were eliminated by lowly Belarus. A lot of bad luck was involved.

"The chemistry on the team is good, and it was good in those other tournaments, too,'' says Sundin. "I don't think that's been an issue.

"There's no doubt once you come to the quarter-final games you have to hit your stride. That's when you need to have your best games. If we look back at the World Cup and Olympics before, we haven't had that happen so, hopefully, we can change that around this tournament. There is a great, positive feeling in the room.''

The Toronto Maple Leafs captain, who also is Sweden's skipper, skated on the first line with Ottawa captain Alfredsson and Fredrik Modin of the Tampa Bay Lightning against Kazakhstan.

"The biggest thing is that we've got a new coach and a little bit of different philosophy,'' says Alfredsson. "A lot of us have been around a long time and played a couple of World Cups, world championships and Olympics, so we know each other pretty good.''

Gustafsson, 47, played for the Washington Capitals for nine years and has his players' respect. He might also have Peter Forsberg in his lineup soon. The Philadelphia Flyers star has been slowed by groin injuries this season, but he'll skate here Friday. If everything goes well, he'll be inserted.

"If he comes in, that's a bonus,'' says Alfredsson.

Sweden plays Russia on Thursday.

Gustafsson didn't use either of his NHL goalies against Kazakhstan. Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Mikael Tellqvist of the Leafs arrived Tuesday, hadn't practised, and were jet-lagged. Gustafsson has designated Lundqvist as his No. 1 netminder.

Stefan Liv of Sweden's Jonkoping got the assignment Wednesday. Liv, originally from Poland and adopted by Swedish parents, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2000.

All but four players in the Swedish lineup are NHLers, while Kazakhstan's only NHL players are Antropov and Vitaliy Kolesnik, the backup goalie for the Colorado Avalanche who didn't face Sweden.

Getting back onto the Olympic-sized rink took a bit of an adjustment.

"More than anything, it was good for us to skate and be on the big ice surface,'' said Sundin. "Some of our guys just got their equipment before the game started and sticks and all that. It's a learning experience.

"We know we're going to face a very tough opponent (Thursday), a young and fast team, and I'm just glad we got this game in our legs before that one.''

The big games are ahead, and there is a sense of purpose among the players.

"I played in Salt Lake City and still remember it,'' said Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom. "It is just a bad memory.

"Hopefully we're stronger from it. You've got to go forward. You can't look back.''

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