It simply wasn’t supposed to go this way. The script was different and everyone knew it heading in, seeing a loaded Swedish roster ready to bring home Gold while playing, well, at home.
Things got off to a great start as Sweden defeated both the USA and Canada in pre-tournament test game action and then proceeded to win preliminary round game for preliminary round game, getting better and better while playing arguably the most attractive ice hockey in the tournament on a nightly basis. The arena was full for every home game and the media attention across the nation had made it clear just which young men had become the country’s winter holiday darlings.
The tournament started with a 5-3 victory over Sweden’s latest tournament thorn in the side, Switzerland, as the victory was first decided with a decisive third period when a 3-3 tie was permanently broken. Next up was Finland, against whom Sweden gained another close victory by a 4-2 score that wasn’t secured until, once again, late in the third period. This was followed by a 10-0 shellacking of Norway, a game in which hometown boy Andre Burakovsky scored a hat trick and was named Player of the Game. Sweden finished the preliminary round with a tight 3-2 victory over Russia when Montreal Canadians draft pick Jacob de la Rose tipped in a shot with less than three minutes to go in the third.
After a clear 6-0 victory over Slovakia to begin playoff round play, Sweden then had to find a way past a talented Russian entry for the second time in the tournament, doing so with yet another tight win, this time by a score of 2-1. Surprising to many, Finland battled its way to the final, creating a wonderful situation in which Nordic archrivals would duke it out for Gold, leaving other traditional tournament favorites such as Canada, Russia, and the USA on the wayside. And duke it out they did, battling for every inch of the ice in a thrilling match for the ages, which found its conclusion at the 9:42 mark of overtime play when Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen slid a backhander past Swedish goaltender Oscar Dansk after marching out of the corner and through the slot, allowing Finland to be the first team to defeat Sweden in the tournament – and limit Sweden to their second WJC silver medal showing in a row.
A glorious moment for Finnish ice hockey, it led to a deafening silence of defeat that swept over the Swedish team, the Malmo Arena, and an entire nation of ice hockey fans who now had to come to terms with the fact that an unexpected twist had been added to this plot, one that no longer had anything to do with the victorious destiny that had been seemingly indicated up until that one OT goal. The feats throughout the tournament seemed meaningless at that point in time.
Gold on home ice just wasn’t in the cards.
Surely there’ll be a few different opinions on this issue, especially for those who felt goaltender Oscar Dansk went above and beyond the call of duty, but for those watching and better yet, those in the stadium feeling the increase in crowd cheering whenever he touched the puck, captain Filip Forsberg was clearly the heart of the team and his role as the team’s top scorer (second overall in tournament scoring) came as no surprise to anyone. He was always a threat as his whopping 40 tournament shots indicates and it was noticeable that just about every opponent had defensive game plans designed specifically for when he was on the ice. Had Sweden taken Gold, he may have been the tournament’s MVP.
The defensive corps was seen as a possible source of weakness, if any could be found, heading into the tournament, but proved to be anything but when all was said and done. The impressive link to the chain was NCAA defenseman and Minnesota Wild prospect Gustav Olofsson. Slick, confident, tricky, and quite intelligent, Olofsson was a tournament master at being in the right place at the right time and doing what was necessary in most all situations. On top of it all he proved to be a revelation on the blueline, putting up one goal, five points, and a +5 rating in seven games.
Checking line forward Nick Sorensen took part in the U20 WJC for the first timea and showed just the type of work ethic and moxy that should leave no question as to why he just couldn’t be left off the roster. Clearly given a role of making life miserable for opponents, he managed to do just that and a little bit of everything else in the process. A three zone player with excellent instincts, the Anaheim Ducks prospect was used in a number of situations and did his job exceptionally. By tournaments end, he had also gathered two goals, six points, and a +4 rating, potting a power-play goal in the process.
18-year-old Lucas Wallmark was somewhat of a surprise addition to this year’s Swedish entry, especially after having gone undrafted last summer. The small forward is known to be crafty and have exceptional offensive instincts, but some aspects of his game and perhaps a few off-ice issues kept NHL teams from taking a shot at him last summer. This year he’s made his way onto a top SHL club, Lulea, and managed to show that he does what a player needs to do to win a regular role, working on all aspects of his game in all three zones. After WJC hopeful Gustav Possler went down for the season with an injury, the federation felt another skill player needed to be added, so Wallmark joined the gang and proceeded to put up three goals, eight points, and a +5 rating in 7 games, including one game-winner and one power-play goal. At this point, it’s hard to think someone won’t take a chance on him as an overager at the 2014 NHL Draft.
For the country of Sweden and the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation, this tournament will likely go down in history as the best WJC it has hosted and certainly one of the most successful World Junior Championships that has ever taken place on European soil. The attendance was outstanding, especially for all of Sweden’s games, and a plethora of different media outlets within Sweden were following and reporting about the tournament on a daily basis. From a sporting standpoint, the team literally lost Gold by one single overtime goal. Everything else was like a fairy tale script for a Hollywood film. When the dust settled, forwards Forsberg and Sebastian Collberg wrapped up their WJC careers with one Gold and two Silver medals, an impressive feat to say the least.
What’s in store in 2015
Eligible for next year’s WJC entry are NHL draftees de la Rose, Burakovksy, Robert Hagg, and Robin Norell. All will likely return, de la Rose and Hagg each for their third WJC. The non-drafted overager Lucas Wallmark appears to have a good shot at returning as well. Young winger Anton Karlsson and goaltender Jonas Johansson are two highly touted prospects for the 2014 NHL Draft and both were along for the ride to get a taste of life at a WJC. Karlsson saw five games of action with minimal playing time while Johansson only watched from the outside. Both should have a good shot at returning in much bigger roles next season, something they’ll be given at the upcoming 2014 U18 tournament in Finland, where they’ll look to return the gold medal-winning favor.
What is big news is that most of the team will be graduating and this will include key figures such as Forsberg, Collberg, Alexander Wennberg, and Elias Lindholm. All will be missed significantly and Sweden will have to hope some of the brighter youngsters in Sweden, such as 2014 NHL Draft hopefuls William Nylander, Adrian Kempe, Marcus Pettersson, Arvid Lundberg, and Oskar Lindblom, will all be able to take the huge steps necessary to be able to bring to the table what their predecessors have in recent years.
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