THOUGHTS ON SWEDISH FINALS
After having contributed nothing to Hockey’s Future during the last two months because of a huge amount of work thrown my direction, I now have a couple of hours free to write a column.
The finals in the Swedish Elitserien ended earlier tonight after an exciting best-of-five series where the fifth and deciding game crowned the champions – and it was the underdog team Brynäs that won 4-2 in the end after stellar play by big New York Rangers goalie prospect Johan Holmqvist. Holmqvist proved at the age of 20 that he could handle the pressure extremely well, and that he is capable of coming up with the key save at the key-moment. Hype is now running high on Holmqvist, but I think it’s deserved. Not that it’s saying that much, but Holmqvist will surely become a better goaltender than Tommy Salo. He is in my opinion the best Swedish NHL-prospect currently drafted by an NHL-club.
Through the series it became quite clear that MoDo had superior talent on their team, but Brynäs beat them with a big heart and an excellent goaltender. Brynäs are worthy champions.
Regarding MoDo, there were many key-players that didn’t fulfill expectations in game 5. More was expected from possible 99-00 NHL-rookies such as Per Svartvadet and Samuel Påhlsson. I have questioned the Sedin’s ability to play up to potential in the big games earlier in this column, and they proved me wrong today. Both were very good, especially center Henrik Sedin who played a mature game and added two assists. Daniel Sedin scored an important goal when he tied the game at 2-2 with 30 seconds to go in period #2.
Among more unheralded players I think looked solid include, 24-year old defenseman Jan-Axel Alavaara who should be given some time in the spotlight. His performance in game 1 reminded me of France’s Lilian Thuram in the semifinal of the Soccer World Cup ’98 against Croatia. For those of you unfamiliar with that game and Lilian Thuram, here’s a short recap: Thuram is considered one of the best defenders in the world in soccer but was never an offensive threat. When his team was down 1-0 in the semifinals, Thuram took matters into his own hands and scored two magnificent goals to take France to the finals. Alavaara’s performance was not quite as dramatic, but he was rock-solid defensively and scored a beautiful goal – and a very important one too – in that game. As the NHL keeps expanding more undrafted european veterans will surely be claimed in this years draft, and I would not be surprised in Alavaara was claimed. He is very good defensively, has a good work-ethic and good hockey-sense. Also, he is solidly built at 6-0 and 205 pounds. Had 4 goals and 2 assists in 13 playoff-games.