OTTAWA – When Sweden won its one and only World Junior gold in 1981, Jan Erixon racked up seven points as a tournament all-star forward as Tre Kronor triumphed in West Germany.
Goalie Lars Eriksson and defenceman Hakan Nordin were the stars of that squad, but only went on to be solid Swedish League players. For NHL fans, apart from Patrik Sundstrom, Jan Erixon probably remains the most familiar alumnus of the '81 team.
Twenty-eight years later, Tim Erixon is hoping to make winning gold at this tournament into a family tradition. Unlike his father, who became a Selke Trophy nominee with the New York Rangers in the 1980's, this 188-cm, 86-kg junior national team rookie plays defence.
The 17-year-old product of Skellefteå AIK has been off the radar in Ottawa, missing one game with the flu and seeing most of the media attention go to fellow blueliners like prospective #1 overall NHL draft pick Victor Hedman, who stepped up his game in the semi-final versus Slovakia, and likely future Ottawa Senator Erik Karlsson, who leads Sweden with nine points.
However, the depth and talent that this year's Swedes possess enables them to slot in a youngster like Erixon without missing a beat, and that reflects how nicely their program has recovered since, say, the dark days of 2003, when they came eighth.
No longer slavishly adhering to the neutral zone trap, they're willing to let the individual skills of their kids shine, and that bodes well for Sweden's hopes in Monday's gold medal showdown with Canada.
It's a chance for five returning players (Hedman, Mikael Backlund, Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, Joakim Andersson, and captain Oscar Moller) to get revenge on Canada for last year's defeat in the finals, and for the entire team to accomplish something that superstars like Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund never achieved. With budding talents like Erixon on board, there may be more finals to come.
For extra insight on Tim Erixon, IIHF.com turned to Peter Westermark, a longtime IIHF correspondent, Swedish hockey journalist and Skellefteå resident.
IIHF.com: Let's get some context. How is Tim Erixon's club team performing in the Swedish Elitserien this season?
Peter Westermark: I never, ever thought that I would see the day when Skellefteå AIK entered the Christmas break on top of the league, but that is exactly what happened. The team is deep this year, and the top line with Brad Moran and Niko Dimitrakos is among the best in the league, right up there in efficiency with Linköping's Jan Hlavac and Miroslav Hlinka.
IIHF.com: What were your first impressions of Erixon?
Westermark: The first time many of us heard of Tim Erixon was last year at this time. Skellefteå was involved in a battle in the lower regions of the standings, and was just making its way out of a slump. Then, Erixon rang a shot off the crossbar that hit Mikael Renberg in the face, broke his jaw, and put him out of action for three crucial weeks. Skellefteå did well anyway, but it can't have been much fun for young Tim just when it happened!
IIHF.com: How would you describe the way Erixon is maturing?
Westermark: I've had the privilege to see him now for half a season, and he has really improved. He's tall enough, but not very strong. That's quite natural--he's a boy amongst men, as they say. This was a problem at the start of the year, but he has managed to find a style that suits his frame. Now, he's very Swedish in his style, maybe like Nicklas Lidstrom in his own end.
IIHF.com: What are his specific skills?
Westermark: He's smart, good on the puck, positions himself well and understands the game. Eventually he'll grow into his body, and he is definitely NHL material. Offensively, he has good instincts, with more smartness and hockey sense than flash. He'll be a two-way defenceman that can be used on the power play as well as on the penalty kill. He recently signed a three-year deal with Skellefteå.
IIHF.com: How much of an impact has his father had on his career?
Westermark: Jan is involved in the hockey program in Skellefteå, and was part of a quite controversial makeover where the number of practices was increased significantly and kids were "forced"--not literally, but in order to play hockey it was hard to find the time to do anything else--to choose between hockey and other sports at a younger age. But in any case, the program has proven to be a success.
IIHF.com: That's obviously the case, with Skellefteå also sending David Rundblad to the national team here in Ottawa.
Westermark: Rundblad is emerging as an offensive star--check out his stats from the juniors this year! He's flashy, confident, and has all the tools to produce offensively, even though it hasn't happened in the Elitserien yet. The coaches with Skellefteå have alternated or played both of them, so if you go to check average ice-time, remember that the coach hasn't used them other than for bench duty in about 10 games each (roughly). Their average ice-time is good.