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Swedes, Finns renew rivalry in semifinal

by Aaron Vickers
CALGARY -- There will be a little extra emotion in the air as two rivals itching to earn the opportunity to win gold at the 2012 World Junior Championship will battle it out in semifinal action.

In this case it's not Canada and Russia, though. We're talking about Sweden and Finland.

On Tuesday, the border foes with meet in the semifinal of the 2012 World Junior Championship at the Scotiabank Saddledome at 5 p.m. ET. The winner will earn an opportunity to strike gold against either Canada or Russia on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.

Going through Sweden for the golden opportunity is just fine for Teemu Pulkkinen, who has shown a lot of finish with 6 goals -- the second highest total in the tournament.

"We're a better team," Pulkkinen said. "It's going to be a nice day. I have been waiting for it."

Finland has gotten consistently better as the tournament has progressed. After an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Canadians, the Finns have gone on to outscore opponents 26-7, including an 8-5 win over Slovakia in the quarterfinal to earn a date with Sweden.

"We are just going to move on, going forward all the time," Pulkkinen said.

Sweden, on the other hand, has been perfect in its quest to return to the gold medal game at the World Juniors for the first time since 2009. The Swedes rolled through Group A going undefeated, beating Switzerland in a shootout before executing an impressive come-from-behind overtime victory over Russia in a New Year's Eve classic. The win earned Sweden a bye directly into the semifinal.

And a date with their biggest enemy.

"There's something extra in the air when you play against them, and we know that," Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg said.

Pulkkanen knows all too well what Ronnberg is referring to.

"(It's) not maybe hate, but we have something between our countries," he said. "I don't know what. Every game against Sweden is a big game, especially (Tuesday). It's going to be a big game. I hope we play good."

The key to Finland's success will likely lie with Pulkkinen and his linemates, brothers Mikael and Markus Granlund.

Mikael Granlund and Pulkkanen currently sit atop the scoring leaderboard with 11 and 10 points respectively. Markus Granlund isn't too far behind, tallying 7 points at the event. The trio has been the most dangerous line in the World Juniors, combining for a leading 28 points.

But Ronnberg won't be looking to match lines against Finland.

Instead, he believes Finland should be looking at matching up with the powerful Swedes, who have four of the tournament's top-20 scorers. That includes Max Friberg, who shares the goal-scoring lead with Canadian Mark Stone at 7.

"I think they should be considering matching lines against us," Ronnberg said. "We also have a good team, a lot of forwards they have to look out for. If we are successful with our game plan, they have to match their team after ours."

Pulkkanen, though, isn't concerned with what the Swedes have to offer on the ice.

"We just have to focus to our own game and not look at what they do," he said.

His captain agreed.

"We have a chance to beat any team in this tournament and we'll try to do anything we can to do so," Mikael Granlund said. "It's a big rivalry. It's going to be a big game."
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