TURIN, Italy - International hockey’s governing board closely monitored Sweden’s 3-0 loss to Slovakia in Olympic preliminary play Tuesday after Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson suggested his team might be better off losing.
The loss meant Sweden will play Switzerland instead of Canada or the Czech Republic in Wednesday’s men’s hockey quarterfinals. Though Switzerland beat both the other teams and finished ahead of Canada and the Czechs in preliminary play, it is considered a much weaker opponent.
Kalervo Kummola, chief of the Finnish Hockey Association, was sent by the International Ice Hockey Federation to watch the game. The IIHF routinely designates game supervisors to monitor games, but normally doesn’t identify the person it sends.
After watching the first period, Kummola said he “didn’t see anything special” and was happy Sweden was using its personnel as normal.
“It is very important that you play hard because people do not understand if you lose on purpose,” Kummola said.
After the game, the Swedes insisted they played hard.
“We had a bad game. We had a terrible game,” said captain Mats Sundin. “If we want to have a chance to go to the semifinals, we have to be better than we were tonight. We’re professional athletes and we want to give the best. We’re always going to give 110 percent. There’s been no talk about anything else in our dressing room.”
“We tried hard today, there’s no question,” Daniel Alfredsson said. “We knew there’s not a lot of time between tonight and tomorrow. It’s not fun to lose anytime, but we have to be ready for tomorrow.”
The controversy began when Gustafsson told Swedish TV on Monday he was debating how to approach the game against Slovakia.
“We are discussing extensively within our group what is good and what is not good. It is a tricky situation and we are facing difficult pre-conditions how to deal with this situation,” Gustafsson said. “Shall we try to select our opponent or shall we do what it takes to win and then take the opponent that comes our way?”
Gustafsson said he and his staff were trying to determine the best way to handle the game.
“It is the question: shall we win or shall we play a good game to get a 0-0 result? There are many questions going through our heads right now,” he said.
IIHF president Rene Fasel said through spokesman Szymon Szemberg he felt “concern, surprise and disappointment” with the coach’s remarks and that they were out of place.
Gustafsson’s suggestion his team might be better off losing the game created a stir in Sweden, with newspaper Web sites jammed with readers’ e-mail comments that the Swedes should play their best no matter what.
Gustafsson, a former Washington Capitals player and an assistant coach with Switzerland, slightly backed off the comments several hours before the game.
“We are going to go out and play and whatever happens happens, but neither one of us will waste energy,” he said.
But he also said he wouldn’t bother adjusting his lines to match Slovakia’s personnel, a basic coaching tactic.
This is a key tournament for Sweden, which looked to be a gold-medal contender after beating eventual champion Canada 5-2 in Salt Lake City in 2002, only to lose to Belarus in the quarterfinals. The upset is considered the biggest in the Olympics since the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in 1980.
Sweden coach Hardy Nilsson was fired following that loss and a subsequent world championship disappointment, and Gustafsson was hired to replace him.
Asked about Gustafsson’s remarks, Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said, “In general terms, I expect all teams to show respect in all situations, as we do in ours.”