CALGARY – As the well-known Australian poets in AC/DC once observed, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll.” Clearly, Sweden’s Max Friberg wants to rock and roll, and he’s prepared to go the distance.
The 19-year-old Timra forward has been a scoring machine for Tre Kronor at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship. He potted four goals against Latvia in the opening 9-4 win, and followed that up with a single in regulation – plus the clinching shootout tally in a 4-3 victory – versus Switzerland.
It’s quite a turnaround for Friberg, who had only one goal and two assists in 28 games with his Swedish Elitserien club heading into this tournament. What’s made the difference for this 2011 fifth-round pick of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks?
“Here I have lots of ice time,” said Friberg. “I don’t get as much in Timra as with the national [junior] team. I think that’s the biggest part. I know they trust me here and they know what I can do. I think confidence is a good answer.”
Speaking of confidence, the 180-cm, 94-kg winger showed plenty of it with the most memorable goal celebration of the tournament so far. When he beat Switzerland’s Lukas Meili in the shootout, he straddled his stick like a bucking bronco and rode past the Swedish bench high-fiving his teammates.
Alberta hockey fans aren’t generally much for flamboyant behaviour, and the Saddledome booed Friberg’s imitation of Dave “Tiger” Williams’ famous display after scoring for Vancouver versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 10, 1980.
“I was just happy,” Friberg said of his YouTube-inspired celebration. “I usually like to celebrate with my teammates on the ice. But there were no other teammates there except the goalie. It was nothing against Switzerland, because I like the way they play and I’m very impressed by their game.”
A lot of people have been impressed by Friberg’s two-way game, too, like Tre Kronor coach Roger Ronnberg, who’s called him a “coach’s dream.” Theoretically it would be nice if he maintained his torrid scoring pace – hey, he’s only eight goals away from tying Markus Naslund’s single-tournament record of 13 (1993). But everything he accomplishes is really gravy for a guy who until last season suited up for his hometown third-division club of Skövde IK.
In the real world, this town of 35,000 is best-known for manufacturing Volvo engines. When Friberg became a hot commodity in the off-season, he could have chosen to accelerate his development by signing with a more powerful club closer to Skövde, like Frölunda Gothenburg or Färjestad Karlstad. Why steer north to tiny Timra?
“I think they offered a good chance for me, a good place to develop my game and get better,” Friberg said. “It’s a big step for me, because the year before I played two divisions lower. So it’s been a big transition for me, but I’m getting into it more and more.”
At some point, Friberg may want to try his luck with Anaheim. But here’s an interesting and instructive statistic. Friberg once called Anton Lander the best player with whom he’s teamed up (on the 2011 World Junior team), and Lander has accumulated the exact same number of league points as Friberg – a goal and two assists – in 31 games as a rookie with the Edmonton Oilers this season.
So there’s no need to race off to Disneyland immediately, and Friberg acknowledges that: “I’m not in a hurry. I’m in a transition to play better in the Swedish Elite League, and when I’m ready to come over, I’ll come over. I’ll take the chance, but it’ll take however long it takes.”
If he wants tips on the Ducks organization, he need look no further than his Timra teammates. Both Jonathan Hedström and Timo Pärssinen suited up for Anaheim in the first decade of the new millennium.
“Jonathan really liked it over there,” Friberg noted. “We sit next to each other on the bus, and sometimes we talk about his memories from Anaheim.”
For now, though, it’s all about making sure Sweden improves on last year’s fourth-place World Junior finish, en route to which Friberg chipped in two assists. What makes him believe the blue-and-yellow squad can grab a medal this time?
“I think we work harder. I think we’re better prepared. And I think we’ll get better as the tournament goes along. Last year, we played our best games against Russia and Canada in the group stage. So we hope to be better in the quarter-finals or semi-finals, wherever we end up this year.”
In the meantime, he has Preliminary Round business to take care of against Slovakia and Russia. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll.