Generally, players from the rival nations respect each other. In many cases, Swedes and Finns are teammates on their respective NHL teams. But in the case of international competition, there's a no-holds-barred mentality. Even in the two World Cup of Hockey preseason games it was a heated battle. It will be on display once again when the two face off in the best-on-best tournament on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Air Canada Centre.
In no way should this game be described as an undercard for U.S. and Canada. If anything, it rivals that big battle.
"I don't know how big the U.S.-Canada [rivalry] is, but I think it's very similar between Finland-Sweden," said legendary Finnish player Teemu Selanne. "Obviously, there's a lot of respect between us, and Sweden is always tough to beat. We feel like they are older brothers, and the younger brothers always want to beat the older brothers, so that's how it usually has been. I think we are even a little jealous about how great a sports country it is in every sport. I think we try to follow them and beat them. It's a great rivalry because there's so much respect, and I think we want to beat them more than they want to beat us. I think they have more rivalry with Norway generally in sports."
Team North America, the roster loaded with talented 23-and-under players, dismantled Finland in its first game. If Finland can't respond against its rival, it will be a short tournament.
"We didn't play very well the first game, and [Tuesday] is pretty much do-or-die game, and if you can't get ready against Sweden, I don't know if you're ever going to be ready," Selanne said.
In past tournaments, Sweden has held the upper hand. In the Olympics, Sweden owns a 5-2-3 record over Finland. In the World Cup of Hockey/Canada Cup, Sweden is 3-2-1. It's a rivalry that all the current players on both rosters learned about at a young age, and once they pull on that sweater for their respective team, it's all about pride.
"Those are the games people in Sweden remember," Swedish forward Carl Hagelin said. "They're bigger than any NHL game. For the fans back home, you want to make sure you're giving them everything they want, and that's a win. It doesn't matter what it looks like out there, you just want to get the two points.
"It's definitely a lot of fun. I just remember growing up from 5 years old and watching the World Championship, and Sweden against Finland was always big games, always medal games, whether it was the final game or the bronze game. You could just sense that every single player on the ice wanted to, not kill the other guys, but they wanted to go out and battle as hard as they could. It was exciting games and anything could happen."
This is a different Finnish team than Sweden is used to playing. Finland is younger and Selanne, Saku Koivu and Sami Salo are not walking into that locker room. The term "bad blood" is commonly used when players from Team USA and Team Canada describe the rivalry. It's different for Sweden and Finland. These players think of it as a history book for hockey.
Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist has won Olympic gold (2006) and silver (2014) and wants to win this tournament too, especially since this could be his last international gig.
"What makes rivalries special is the history," Lundqvist said. "You look at all the special games you've played against each other and that's why U.S.-Canada is very special. Going back, they've had a lot of memorable games, and that's the case with Sweden and Finland as well. But in the end, it's still the same game and you don't want to complicate it, or make it bigger than it is, you just try to go out there and be very focused on your own performance and try to do as well as you can."
During the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Finland goalie Tuukka Rask missed the semifinal game against Sweden because he was sick. Finland lost that game 2-1, and backup netminder Kari Lehtonen finished with 23 saves. Rask returned for the bronze-medal game and led the team to victory over the U.S. But it was that missed game against Sweden that haunts him to this day, and he's hoping to get the nod Tuesday.
"Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely," he said. "As a goalie, as an athlete, you thrive on important games in important situations. You want to perform at a high level when it's really needed. It's against Sweden, so it's a big thing back home. It's a big game for our team and you don't want to look back at what's happened before. We have to focus on the moment, and tomorrow's against Sweden; if I play I'll just try to be at my best and feel good about myself."