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Thousands of Swedes Greet Hockey Team

By ADAM EWING
The Associated Press
Monday, February 27, 2006; 7:00 PM

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Thousands of flag-waving fans welcomed Sweden's Olympic hockey champions with roaring cheers Monday as the players returned home for a hastily arranged gold-medal celebration.

Smiling broadly under gold-colored helmets, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and the other Swedish players sang the national anthem along with the elated crowd packing a downtown square in Stockholm.

"We came to the tournament with pretty high expectations. We really wanted to win," goalie Henrik Lundqvist told the fans before breaking into an impromptu dance.

Sweden beat Finland 3-2 on Sunday to win its first Olympic hockey title since 1994.

The team's NHL players were originally scheduled to fly directly from Turin to the United States. But no one wanted to miss the celebrations in the Swedish capital.

"It's a lot of fun to come home to Sweden," Forsberg said at Stockholm's Arlanda airport. "It might be a pretty long night."

Forsberg said he would return to Philadelphia on Tuesday and hoped to play for the Flyers against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

The players met fans and family at the airport before boarding a bus taking them to the celebrations in the city center.

"I'm so proud," said Lundqvist's father, Peter. "I didn't think I'd get to see him before he went back to America. It was great to be able to give him a hug."

The gold medal was the top story in the country's biggest newspapers Monday. Tabloids printed special sections that devoted dozens of pages to the win.

The Finns appeared to have recovered from the loss quickly, with thousands of hockey fans braving freezing temperatures to celebrate the nation's silver medal in Helsinki late Sunday.

A six-hour ceremony, with local singers performing on outdoor stages, ended in the homecoming of the Finnish "Lions." Fans greeted the team with shouts and flag-waving at the icy waterfront square near the president's palace.

___

Associated Press Writer Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Finland, contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press