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Sweden vs. Finland: an epic showdown

There are mythical moments in Olympic history that only a child can dream.

In the 54 years Sweden and Finland have played hockey at the Winter Games, they've never met for the gold medal.

"Actually, we met once when I was a little boy," said Finland's Teemu Selanne, smiling. "It was outdoors in Finland with my buddies. I dreamed of playing that game against Sweden in the Olympic final. That time, we won. So hopefully, we repeat that."

Today they finally meet.

"Playing against Sweden, well, you could not get a better situation," Ville Nieminen said. "Unless you were born in Finland or Sweden, you would not be able to figure out what it means."

Their history is ancient. Because Finland acts as a buffer between Sweden and Russia, it was a pawn in a centuries-long chess struggle as both Russia and Sweden imposed their will and occupation on the Finns.

At various times, each controlled Finland. The Russians eventually entered a partnership with the Finns in the 19th century, but early in the 20th century, Finland won its independence.

The occupation by the Swedes, however, is not lost on this present generation of hockey players.

"It goes way, way back when we were under Sweden's rule," Finland's Saku Koivu said. "We always think they are better than us. We played against them so often for so many years. Every country has one opponent they want to beat and for us, it's Sweden."

Between the IIHF World Championships and Olympics, they have met 60 times with Sweden winning 39, Finland 15 and 15 ties.

"The first memories of hockey are watching games with your dad and one's you remember are Sweden and Finland," Koivu said.

One game defines both nations. The 2003 World Championships were held in Helsinki. For the Finns, the quarterfinal match was traumatic.

Sweden's Mats Sundin scored the game's first goal. Then Finland erupted for five in succession, chasing goalie Tommy Salo for Mikael Tellqvist. The Swedes mounted a comeback, beginning with Peter Forsberg, who made it 5-2. It ended with P.J. Axelsson's 6-5 winner.

In the streets of Helsinki during the days that followed, residents wore blue Finnish jerseys that read: "5-6 Catastrophe."

"I hope that was the learning lesson for us and we never have to go through that again," Selanne said. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And that's how we felt that time."

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