Battle for hockey supremacy


SOCHI, Russia -- There are no short cuts to experience.

You don't know what it's like to win a Stanley Cup or capture an Olympic gold medal until you've done it.

The knowledge gained from having accomplished those feats is the most valuable currency in hockey.

It's why NHL teams trade for former Cup champions. It's also why Team Canada goes into Sunday's gold-medal game with a crucial intangible in its back pocket.

The Canadians are the defending Olympic champs, having accrued the knowledge of what it takes on this stage in this exact game four years ago in Vancouver.

From Sidney Crosby to Jonathan Toews to 11 returnees overall from Vancouver, these guys understand what it's going to be like Sunday.

"The reality for me is we have 11 guys play at the Olympics last time and have success," coach Mike Babcock said earlier in the tournament. "This is a new opportunity, and we've got to come up with a new identity and a new way to play for a new group. Does experience and experience in winning help? Absolutely. Do the Olympics weigh in more than the guy who played and won the Stanley Cup? I don't know that. I like guys who have won because you've been through it; you've done it right. You don't win unless you do it right."

There wasn't a lot of knowledge four years ago when Canada went into a home gold-medal game with an entire nation waiting to explode and with just four players on its entire roster with an Olympic gold-medal game on their résumé. ( Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Jarome Iginla and Martin Brodeur were the only Salt Lake City holdovers.)

Which is why the quiet captain before that gold-medal game in Vancouver made himself heard.

"Niedermayer never said anything until it was right on the line -- then he said a lot," Team Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock, who was also on the staff in 2010, said earlier in this tournament. "He held back. He let other people take the verbal [lead] during the competition, but when it was on the line, in the final game, he was very vocal. He spoke up at the right time."

One suspects captain Crosby or alternate captains Toews or Shea Weber to have a word or two before the game Sunday.

Regardless, just having half the roster with that gold-medal knowledge is already valuable enough.

"I think it helps," Crosby agreed Saturday after practice. "We definitely want to make sure we don't change too much. You want to keep everything as normal as you can. Having gone through that, knowing that the stakes are high, you want to be at your best. I think everybody understands that, but the experience of having gone through that in Vancouver, in Canada where there's obviously a lot of pressure, you can feel it pretty quickly there, but hopefully that's something that helps us here tomorrow."

It's a relevant point to be made because, although Sweden has the edge over Canada when it comes to its comfort level playing on big ice (the Swedes won the last Olympics played on big ice) the team has only four holdovers from that 2006 Torino team: Niklas Kronwall, Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel Sedin and the King, Henrik Lundqvist.

On the other hand, there's also some Stanley Cup knowledge the Swedes can dip into.

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