SOCHI, Russia — The last time Canada played a hockey game in Russia as big as today's Olympic gold-medal game with Sweden, 9-year-old Mike Babcock was a third-grader in the mining town of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba.
On that Thursday in September 1972, his teacher, Mr. Jeffries, ran back and forth between the classroom and the school's office to get updates on Game 8, the final contest in the Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union being played in Moscow.
On his final trip back from the office, Mr. Jeffries told his class that Paul Henderson had scored the decisive goal. Canada had won. The moment became a national emotional touchstone.
Today Babcock will be behind the bench at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on the brink of history in a showdown between the past two Olympic champions.
With a victory against the Swedes, Canada, with the Lightning's Marty St. Louis, would become the first North American team to win an Olympic tournament held outside its home continent since 1952. A win also would make Canada the first Olympic champion to successfully defend the gold medal since the Soviet Union in 1988.
"A great opportunity," Canada captain Sidney Crosby said.
For Sweden, the final marks a return to the sport's global marquee game after failing to medal four years ago in Vancouver.
"We haven't talked about Vancouver," Sweden coach Par Marts said. "This is a new moment, new guys, new dreams."
A victory would be validation for Babcock, who despite leading Canada to the gold medal four years ago has come under criticism for Canada's low-scoring, not always entertaining style. The three scorers from the 2010 overtime final against the United States — the Penguins' Crosby, the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews and the Ducks' Corey Perry — are goalless in the tournament.
"It's all part of the process in Canada," Babcock said. "Everyone (in the nation) is interested, everyone invested."
Babcock recalled a charity event with a group of plumbers before the 2010 Games.
"And they knew every player, everything," Babcock said. "Why wouldn't they second-guess what you're doing and question what you're doing?
"It's such an honor to have an opportunity to coach these teams, and you have to take your responsibility to your country and to hockey very seriously. Having said that — and people don't ever believe me — but you have to line up the moon and skies to win. People don't always believe that in Canada, but it's the facts."
As the pretournament favorites as well as the reigning champions, the Canadians seem almost grateful their medal run has pitted them against Finland, the United States and Sweden, the other three strongest teams of the tournament.
"It's about hockey supremacy," Babcock said. "(Canada likes) to brag that it's our game. If you think it's your game, you better show it's your game."