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Swedes beat Russia 1-0 in OT for WJC gold

by Mike G. Morreale

CALGARY -- Mika Zibanejad wasn't even born the last time Sweden earned a gold medal at the World Junior Championship.
On Thursday, he became a national hero after ending 30 years of frustration.
In one swooping motion, the 2011 first-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators drove down his right wing and broke in one-on-one against Russian goalie Andrei Makarov before backhanding a shot into the net 10:09 into overtime to send his team and an entire nation into a state of delirium with a 1-0 victory before 18,722 at Scotiabank Saddledome.
"Is it the biggest goal of my career? Right now it is," Zibanejad told the media following a locker-room celebration with teammates. "I haven't played this big a stage before and to get a goal like this is amazing."
After his goal, Zibanejad jumped into the arms of a teammate in the left-wing corner -- he had no idea who that player was.

2012 World Junior Championship

Highlighting the win

Aaron Vickers - Correspondent
In one of the more thrilling finishes to a WJC hockey game,Russia built a five-goal lead, only to escape with a 6-5 victory against Canada. READ MORE ›

"I saw the puck was loose there at the boards, and I took it and had a breakaway," Zibanejad said. "No thoughts were coming through my head there, but it was amazing to score."
Said forward Max Friberg, who led Sweden with nine goals and 11 points, "Mika is [a national hero]. I hope they take this big in Sweden.'
The triumph gives Tre Kronor its first gold medal at the WJC since 1981. The Swedes settled for silver in 2008 and '09 and took home bronze in 2010. They previously met the Soviet Union three times in the gold medal match (1978, '89 and '92) and lost all three.
"They're planning a big celebration in Stockholm when we arrive, and it's going to be huge," Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg said. "This is a really big win for Sweden. We've chased for so many years. I just spoke to my boss and he said, after the Olympics, this is the greatest win for Swedish hockey ever."
Friberg knows the celebration will likely go on through the morning.
"Of course it's big for hockey in Sweden that we win," he said. "It's been 31 years. I hope everyone cheered for us in Sweden. I hope they party like hell."
The triumph certainly didn't come easily, largely due to Russian goalie Andrei Makarov, who made 57 saves after being named as the starter on Thursday morning. Sweden's Johan Gustafsson faced only 17 shots, but one late-game save will be remembered for a long time.
With just 32 seconds remaining in regulation, Russian captain Yevgeny Kuznetsov skated into the left circle between two defenders before dealing a spinorama pass off his backhand to Nikita Gusev in the slot. The puck hit Gusev's blade but Gustafsson somehow made the save to keep the game scoreless.
"I have coached Gustafsson for a couple of years," Ronnberg said. "He's strong-headed and confident and a true winner. I trusted him big time because of his personality."
The victory over the defending WJC gold medalist was Sweden's second of the tournament. The Swedes also needed overtime to defeat Russia 4-3 on New Year's Eve in their Group A preliminary-round contest -- a win that gave Sweden a bye into the semifinals.
"I want to congratulate Sweden for the win," Russian coach Valeri Bragin said through an interpreter. "It's been 30 years, so that's a big win for the team and also good for Scandinavian teams in general. It was a very hard game, there were a lot of emotions spent in our victory over the Czechs [in the quarterfinal round] and Canada [in the semifinal round] and the team was a bit tired.
"Then the game went into overtime and that took emotions and effort."
The Swedes outshot the Russians 58-17, including 22-1 in the second period and 8-1 in OT.
"It's an amazing feeling to be here in this moment right now," Gustafsson said. "This team is something special. We really showed that we have so much character in this team. We had the pressure on them the whole time. The two periods we were outshooting them so much and didn't get the puck in, but we kept on going. It's hard to describe the feeling right now but it's amazing to stand here with the gold medal with these guys."
Ronnberg was happy to see Zibanejad connect for the game-winner, his fourth goal of the tournament.
"I told the guys that it didn't matter what you did before this game," Ronnberg said. "Anybody can be the guy to score the winning goal for the team and be the hero. We had a lot of guys not reaching their potential before this game -- that's Mika. Saving his best game when we needed it the most … he was really good today."
In the overtime, Sweden's Rickard Rakell had the first good opportunity on a blast from between the circles that Makarov snapped up with his left glove. Zibanejad and Rakell tied for the team lead with seven shots on goal against Russia.
Makarov's best stop might have come four minutes into the third when Rakell broke in one-on-one and was stopped before crashing into the goalie. Makarov remained on the ice for about a half-minute to regain his composure before continuing.
Gustafsson didn't get as many shots as his counterpart, but was certainly up to challenge when the Russians did force the issue. Kuznetsov almost slipped one home on a right-circle whistler that Gustafsson stopped before the puck trickled behind him and just wide of the left post.
The Swedes came out the gate determined to deny the Russians the middle of ice. At the same time, they were able to generate some good pressure with their tenacious cycling in the Russian end.

Many were surprised to learn that Bragin had named Makarov his starter over Andrei Vasilevski. Makarov had started just one game -- a 31-save 3-1 victory over Slovakia -- prior to Thursday. But he stepped in and was flawless down the stretch after relieving Vasilevski in Tuesday's 6-5 semifinal win against Canada, earning him the start in the final.
"Vasilevski's previous games were fantastic, and with five minutes left in the last game, Makarov had a good performance," Bragin said. "At the end of pregame skates the coaches saw Vasilevski seemed to have spent all his effort and potential so we just made a decision to Makarov."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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