BRATISLAVA – Germany’s Justin Krueger had never heard of him. The Czech players didn’t know who he was, either. And to be fair, not even Tre Kronor teammate Robert Nilsson knew who Viktor Fasth was before Sweden’s pre-World Championship training camp.
“To be honest, I’ve seen him only here as well, but I’d heard that he’d been great in Elitserien. Thanks to him, AIK Stockholm went to the playoffs and then they swept the quarterfinal against HV71,” Nilsson said.
Fasth, 28, just finished his first Elitserien season, having signed with the Stockholm team after three seasons with Växjö in Hockeyallsvenskan, one division below Elitserien. Before that he played four seasons in Division 1, one tier below Hockeyallsvenskan, and before that, he had even played in the fourth-tier league Division 2 as a 20-year-old.
Or, to put things into another perspective: When Finland and Sweden met in the Olympic final in Turin in 2006, Fasth, then 24, was a solid Division I goalie, playing 29 games and posting a 91.0 save percentage for Tingsryd. The year after, with improved stats, he took the step up to Hockeyallsvenskan, and when AIK got promoted to Elitserien in 2010, they signed the goalie they had had trouble with during the season.
This season, Fasth was the man behind AIK’s success. When Fasth was out of action for three weeks, AIK dipped in the standings and began their surge in the standings began when he returned to action. He faced third most shots in the league, and posted the third best save percentage, 92.45.
In the post-season, Fasth took his game up a notch, surrendering just four goals in the four quarterfinal games, and turning away 97.28 percent of the shots. AIK head coach Roger Melin was all smiles after the game that completed AIK’s sweep over HV71. He watched Viktor Fasth return to the ice as the first star of the game, and getting big ovations from the home crowd.
“I get goose bumps,” he said.
Fasth has been delivering good vibes to his coaches and teammates even in Kosice and Bratislava. His save percentage, 96.83, is the best for any starting goalie in the 21st century, just as his goals against average: 1.00. And yet, he wasn’t really supposed to be here. Team Sweden head coach Pär Mårts had used Stefan Liv – Daniel Larsson tandem in all three Euro Hockey Tour tournaments during the season, with an aim at the World Championship, but when Liv surprisingly declined invitation, and Larsson wanted to take a break after his unhappy Elitserien season end, Mårts invited Fasth to camp.
However, in Sweden’s first game, against Norway, Mårts started Erik Ersberg. After a surprising loss, he went to Fasth, Sweden won four games in a row, shutting out Austria, France, and Switzerland. In their loss to Canada, Fasth wasn’t even in the line-up.
He’s risen to the occasion at every level, it just took him a little longer to get to the highest one.
“It’s taken some time, but I have no regrets,” Fasth said earlier this season.
“I’ve had to learn how much hard work it takes to be good at the top level,” he added.
Hard work has yielded results, and results build confidence.
“He is, without a doubt, the best goaltender of the World Championship,” says Stefan Persson, who is slightly biased, being Fasth’s goalie coach and all.
According to a newspaper story, one of the goals Persson and Fasth set for the goaltender for the season was to not get Elitserien’s Save of the Week award. A highlight reel save is, to them, evidence of a goaltending play gone bad. When the puck hits the logo on the chest, the goalie has done a good job.
That is one goal he did miss, though. Fasth made the Save of the Week in January.
“He’s so consistent, and has been all season long. He’s only played two bad games all year,” Persson told Swedish newspaper Expressen.
Fasth signed a two-year extension with AIK in February, but is now being courted by several NHL clubs. But first, there’s the World Championship final. Fasth hurt his hand in the semi-final game against the Czechs, but is ready to play in the final, “no matter what”.
And then, who knows.
“He’s been outstanding. He won’t be playing in Sweden next season, that’s for sure,” said Nilsson.
Exactly ten years ago, Fasth played Division 2 hockey with the Brooklyn Tigers, a club in Luleå in Northern Sweden. Maybe next season he gets to try playing in Manhattan.