BRATISLAVA – The first season behind the Tre Kronor bench ended with a tough defeat to archrival Finland and the silver medal. But Pär Mårts wants more and he’s on the right path.
The Sweden-Finland final was the best that could happen for the 2012 IIHF World Championship organizers, but not many people outside of Finland would have bet that the Finns, with their reputation of being the eternal bridesmaids, would beat eight-time world champion Sweden.
And not even the most optimistic Finn could have imagined doing it in such a fashion, with a five-goal margin.
The Finns had to wait 16 years for their second word title and in the end they saw these numbers on the scoreboard: 1-6, numbers that stunned Mårts and left the 58-year-old Swedish coach holding the bridesmaid’s bouquet.
As a head coach he was behind the bench of the U20 national team four times and won four medals. Three silvers (1992, 2008, 2009) and one bronze (2010), but never a golden one.
“I don’t know how many silver medals I’ve won, but it’s too many,” a disappointed Mårts said after the gold medal game in Bratislava. “I can’t see what I should have done in another way right now, but you have to learn from losses.”
“It’s sad and it should be sad because we didn’t win. We have to learn winning. But now we have to be content with the silver medal.”
And then, he eventually found some reasons why his team was outplayed to such an extent in the final stage of the game, after two tightly-contested periods.
“The Finns were the better team. They played much better in the defence and had more power. Nobody on the Swedish team played his best game,” he said. “Some young guys tried to do what they couldn’t do. We didn’t have the mental strength to win this game.”
It was his answer to the question why Finland was so much better scorewise. And why Finland became the first team ever to score five goals in a period in a World Championship gold medal game, and the second (after Canada in 1930) to score six goals in total.
Mårts had good reasons to be disappointed. The Swedes were one of the best teams in the group stages, and in the semis they were the only team of the event to defeat the fan-favourite Czech Republic and end the Czechs’ winning streak.
Mårts has to get over another gold medal loss and regroup for another year. Although the way the gold medal game ended his team bordered on embarrassment for the successful Swedes, there were many positives for Tre Kronor in this event, too.
Think of rags-to-riches goalkeeper Viktor Fasth, who just conceded six goals in six games before the final clash with Finland, where this figure doubled.
Or of 20-year-old wunderkind Magnus Pääjärvi, although among youngsters he landed in the shadow of Mikael Granlund after the Finn’s lacrosse-like goal in the semi-final game against Russia.
Or Patrik Berglund, who led his team in scoring at age 22 – only Finland’s Jarkko Immonen had more goals and points.
Or the many Swedish NHL players who cross the ocean to make Sweden the number-one producer of European talent in North America.
The Finnish team and its individuals were a notch ahead on Sunday, but the future is bright for Mårts’s team and there will be a new chance to win gold another year.
The years to come are exciting for both of the Northern European nations. As co-host of the 2012 and 2013 Worlds Sweden will play seven preliminary-round games and an eventual quarter-final in Stockholm’s Globen Arena next year before moving to Helsinki for eventual semi-final and medal games.
In 2013 Stockholm will be the main venue hosting the gold medal game and the Swedes even consider using the Stockholmsarenan, a 30,000-seat multi-purpose football stadium with a retractable roof that is being built behind the Globen Arena.
“Overall I’m proud that my team did a pretty good tournament,” Mårts said. “Not the best, but it’s a start for something better.”