Swedish fans celebrate Olympic hockey win

Swedes took to the streets Sunday to celebrate winning their first Olympic hockey gold medal in 12 years.

Dozens of supporters gathered at the Sergel Square in central Stockholm immediately after Sweden's 3-2 victory over arch rival Finland, braving freezing temperatures to wave the Swedish flag and chant "Olympic gold, Olympic gold."

Car horns could be heard throughout the capital, with Swedish flags and hockey jerseys flying from car windows.

But the big party is on Monday when the team charters a plane to Stockholm to be celebrated by fans in a ceremony in the capital.

That celebration was originally planned for Sunday night, but had to be postponed because flight restrictions from Turin prevented the players from returning to Sweden.

"We would not be able to land (in Stockholm) until 1:30 a.m. and that is not reasonable," said Michael Englund, the head of the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation.

The federation originally said the celebration would be scrapped completely as a majority of the players must fly back to North America, where the NHL resumes on Tuesday.

"But the boys are ready to do anything to come back home first," federation chairman Christer Englund told newspaper Aftonbladet.

Such celebrations have in the past attracted tens of thousands of fans including when Sweden last won Olympic hockey gold in 1994.

Up to one-third of Sweden's population of 9 million was expected to watch the game. Even Prime Minister Goran Persson, who told public broadcaster SVT he would tape the game and watch it later to ease his nerves, said he couldn't refrain from watching the last period.

"I still have the tape, and I'm going to save it for the rest of my life," Persson told SVT. "I was never worried. Finland had not lost a game the whole tournament, and eventually you do lose. I've never felt so sure about a win."

In neighboring Finland, thousands of ice hockey fans were expected in Helsinki's central market square to celebrate the silver medal. The Finnish hockey team was expected to arrive after 1 a.m. local time (2300 GMT) to join celebrations that will be broadcast live on radio and nationwide TV.

Earlier, some 10,000 fans watched the Finland-Sweden final live on large TV screens erected at the icy waterfront square next to the president's palace. Many went away disappointed but said they would return for the silver ceremony, reports AP.


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