Originally created 05/14/98

Swedes, Finns close to all-Scandanavian final



ZURICH, Switzerland -- Sweden and Finland are one win away from an all-Scandanavian gold-medal game at the World Ice Hockey Championships.

The teams have played each other for the gold medal twice in the past, the last time at Stockholm in 1995, when Finland claimed its only title.

The only other time the two met, at Prague in 1992, Sweden won its sixth -- and last -- title.

The Finns, who pin as much of their success on emotion and hard work as they do on speed and skill, displayed them all Tuesday, beating the favored Czechs 4-1. Sweden, expected to dominate Switzerland, also won 4-1.

In the second-leg semifinal Thursday, Finland, Olympic bronze-medalists, will have to play exceptionally well to beat the Czechs.

In the two-match semifinals, teams are awarded two points for a win, one point for a tie and no points for a loss. In case of a tie at the end of the two legs, 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime are played, followed by a tie-breaking shootout, if necessary.

The new format has given the Swiss another chance to extend their run of upsets. A win, even by ome goal, would allow the Swiss to even the their series with the 1992 Olympic champions.

The Swedish team is stacked with nine top-flight NHL players, led by the Toronto Maple Leafs' Mats Sundin and the Colorado Avalanche's Peter Forsberg.

The Swiss team, which has no NHL players, was promoted to the A-Pool for the first time since 1992, only because it was the home team.

Switzerland's biggest driving force has been the enthusiastic support of the home crowd.

The Swiss team has been riding an emotional wave created by its home fans, which has carried it as far as the semifinals and a chance at a medal for the first time since 1953.

And backed by the brilliant goaltending of Davis Aebischer, Colorado's fifth-round pick last year, Switzerland restrained a powerful Swedish offense, which had beaten defending champion Canada 7-1.

Though the Swiss lost the first leg of the two-game semifinals, it has made believers of skeptics, mainly because of a stunning 4-2 victory over Olympic silver medalist Russia.