Sports Hockey


Snapshots: Confident Sweden 'going for gold'

By Ryan Pyette, The London Free Press

Sweden's Jens Looke (left) celebrates his goal against Switzerland during the group stage of the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

Sweden's Jens Looke (left) celebrates his goal against Switzerland during the group stage of the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)


Everyone underestimated the Swedes.

After a couple of lousy exhibition games before the World Junior Championship started, they didn't look like medal contenders when they shuffled into Toronto last week.

But they've owned the Air Canada Centre.

Canada may be moving in to the Maple Leafs dressing room, but this building belongs to the unbeaten Swedes at the moment.

“We're confident now,” said Oskar Lindblom, the Philadelphia Flyers pick who buried a second-period natural hat trick set up by Leafs first-rounder William Nylander to dismantle the Swiss 5-1 before 13,857 Wednesday. “We're going for gold.”

This game didn't mean anything to first place Sweden. But they started top goalie Linus Soderstrom anyway and didn't give their top guns any less ice time.

They're a bunch of pool sharks. The Swedes have won 32 consecutive world junior preliminary-round games since falling at home ice to the Americans on a Jack Johnson overtime goal Dec. 31, 2006.

Back then, most of the players on this Swedish squad were nine years old.

“We wanted to send the message that this (is) an important game,” Swedish coach Rikard Gronborg said. “Every game we play here, it means something. When you're in the middle (of a streak), you're not counting, but it's a winning tradition, and it's something to be proud of.”

There's a disclaimer to it, of course. Over those 32 games, they've only faced Canada twice.

But it's still an incredible run at this level.

The Swedes are 9-for-18 on the power play and they've killed all 13 penalties they've taken.

Those numbers are as brilliant as their yellow sweaters.

They decimated the Swiss penalty kill. They scored two goals in 16 total seconds of power-play time. Then, they scored twice in 26 seconds on a five-minute major.

“We're not looking for the perfect opportunity,” Gronborg said. “We feel like if you win the faceoff, why not go straight for the finish?”

Much of the damage is coming from a line of 18 year olds -- Lindblom, Nylander and the flinty Axel Holmstrom, another late-round Detroit Red Wings pick. If Nylander doesn't play in Toronto next fall, these guys will be reunited a year from now in Helsinki.

“We played together at the under-18s and it took us maybe two or three games,” Nylander said. “You believe in yourself and your teammates (to make it work). We play the system pretty well and it's a good match.”

Nylander controls the play and creates, Lindblom shoots pucks and retrieves them, and Holmstrom wins draws, throws hits and does all the little things.

“If it has chemistry, why break it?” Gronborg asked.

They've become Sweden's Triple Crown line. They've looked stronger every game.

Just like their medal chances.


Four-time world junior Swiss defenceman Phil Baltisberger, removed by stretcher on Sunday against Russia, took the pre-game warmup but couldn't play against Sweden. The Guelph Storm rearguard is still suffering muscle soreness in his neck. “He's not ready,” Swiss coach John Fust said. “He needs time.” The Swiss ended up playing half the game without captain Yannick Rathgeb, another defender given the boot for a charging major.


The Danes, off to the quarterfinals for the first time, are still basking in the glow of their first top-tier world junior win in 16 tries. It's a shootout redemption story. Goalie Georg Sorensen didn't make a save against shifty Russians Nikolai Goldobin or Sergei Tolchinsky in a tourney-opening shootout. But he stopped Swiss shooters Kevin Fiala and Noah Rod -- both high NHL draft picks. Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand missed their chances against Russia. They both scored against the Swiss on high-risk moves. “(Fellow Halifax Moosehead Timo Meier) is my teammate and I figured he would tell the Swiss goalie what I do, so I tried something totally different,” he said. Bjorkstrand, a 50-goal man for Portland, went with a nifty backhand, something he's tried a lot in Western Hockey League penalty shots lately. “I haven't had much success with it,” he said, “so it's nice to get one in there.” It helped make history.


No nation has more reason to complain about the schedule than the Swiss. They played back-to-back days twice. The biggest indignity was facing Sweden on Wednesday 17 hours after losing to Denmark. There's no reason that couldn't have been the second game on New Year's Eve. Russia and the Czechs, who had Tuesday off, got the 5 p.m. puck drop. It's all about TV, baby.


Greatest comeback in world junior history? A Toronto newbie shelled out 30 bucks for parking near the ACC on his first visit, $25 the second day, and found $10 the rest of the way.


Don't kid yourself. The Danes are dangerous. They can form a top line of Ehlers, Bjorkstrand and Mads Eller, who won a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings last spring in London. Their power play went 6-for-16 in the preliminary round, so foul them at your peril. Are they as deadly as Sweden and Canada with the man advantage? It's pretty close. “The majority of our goals are on the power play,” Bjorkstrand said. “Obviously, Canada has a lot more depth than us so it's hard to say, but we feel like we're up there.”

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