DETROIT - With all eyes on Friday’s Olympic semifinals, the players in the Red Wings’ dressing room had plenty of input on how their countries and teammates will fare for the remainder of the tournament.
Sweden and Finland will face off in the first semifinal matchup at 7 a.m. EST, bringing the historic Scandinavian rivalry between the two countries to the center stage for the entire world to see.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of talk between the Swedes and Finns,” said Munkedal, Sweden native Joakim Andersson. “They teach Swedish in school so we always say they’re the little brother, but I don’t know, they have a good team and we have a good team as well. They got a lot of injuries before the tournament but they always get a good team together and work hard for each other.”
Teemu Pulkkinen, who was recalled from the Griffins to participate in Detroit’s practices this week, wasn’t so quick to agree.
“That’s what the guys said; I don’t know about that,” the Vantaa, Finland native said.
Andersson, not surprisingly, picked Team Sweden to be victorious against Finland, and will cheer on five of his Wings teammates in their quest for a gold medal.
“I think Sweden will win,” Andersson said. “They have the better players. I think they’re going to play their best games here when it counts.”
The second game features a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, as the Americans seek revenge against Canada for Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in overtime that ended the USA’s Olympic dreams four years ago.
“It’s going to be a very good game,” said Drew Miller, whose brother Ryan is the backup goaltender for Team USA. “I think U.S wins, I’m a little bias, but I think the four teams that are left are all good teams. In a single-game elimination it’s anyone’s tournament now.”
The USA, who has outscored its opponents 15-4 through four games in Sochi, is the favorite among the Wings players in Friday’s game despite the tough challenge the defending gold-medal champions present.
“It’s been great,” forward Justin Abdelkader said of the USA’s performance. “Team USA has really been playing well. They’ve played the best out of any team in the tournament but they’re going to have a tough match against Canada. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
As far as Sunday’s gold-medal matchup, Daniel Cleary hesitated ever so slightly before giving his final answer.
“Prediction? Wow. I’m going to go with Sweden and USA,” the forward said.
“USA,” Cleary said.
“USA, of course,” Abdelkader conceded.
Andersson didn’t quite agree.
“I cheer for Sweden,” the center said.
Only time will tell what bronze and gold-medal games the world will watch Saturday and Sunday, but one thing is certain: in the words of Wings associate coach Tom Renny, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.
“Under the circumstances with the best players and ultimately the best teams in the world playing, it just doesn’t get any better than this. It’ll be a great day. Where it ends up, who’s to say.
“I think it’ll be a great day of hockey and certainly, the whole idea behind these guys being at the Olympic games in the first place is to just sell the game globally and I think mission accomplished.”
Follow Andrea Nelson on Twitter @Nelson_Andrea