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Kings of Sweden

Over 20,000 fans gathered to celebrate end of seven lean years

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Thousands of fans celebrate the Swedish World Champions at Kungsträdgården. Photo: 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Organizing Committee

STOCKHOLM – Apparently there were a handful Swedes who had full confidence in their team before Sunday’s final. One of them was Carl XVI Gustaf. The real king of Sweden.

“I was pretty calm,” His Majesty told the players when the newly-crowned world champions paid a visit at the Royal Palace in central Stockholm just 12 hours after they had beat Switzerland 5-1 in the final.

As the team presented the royal family with an autographed sweater, the players probably already heard the Poodles play their official tournament song - “En för alla för en”, or “one for all for one” - in the background because meanwhile, thousands and thousands of people gathered in Kungsträdgården, a recreational park that can be seen from the castle.

Kungsträdgården, “King’s garden” has in recent years become the new place for such events. Back in 2006, when Sweden won both the Olympic gold and the World Championship, the Olympic team had their parade end at Medborgarplatsen, a square on the south side of town, and the World Champions in Kungsträdgården.

The stage has been ready every year, but for seven long years, it’s stayed empty, sadly overlooking the two lines of Japanese cherry trees that surround the park. Except for that one night in January in 2012, when the under-20 team celebrated their World Junior Championship out in the cold.

But on Monday, the sun was out, the cherry trees had bloomed and were already mostly green, with a shadow of pink still remaining there. Above the stage there was a big sign that said, “WORLD CHAMPIONS”, in Swedish.

Not many experts had believed in the team before the tournament, and they did stumble in the early rounds. They lost to Switzerland, and they lost to Canada, and they squeaked by both the Czech Republic and Belarus, winning both games 2-1. In fact, Sweden scored only 17 goals in their seven preliminary round games, fewest of the four teams that advanced to the playoff stage.

But they did score four in their last preliminary round game, which was also the first with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the team.

Sweden scored 14 goals - and one in the shootout in the game against Canada - in its four games with the Sedins. Henrik and Daniel were the architects for ten of them, including eight of the team’s ten goals in the three playoff games.

“We watched a game on TV back home [in Vancouver], and what we saw was a hard working team in which everybody worked for each other. That’s the kind of team we love to play for,” Daniel Sedin told Aftonbladet before the final.

There they were, wearing the yellow sweaters, lifting the cup, just to hear the crowd roar. So many of them finally getting their due, their day in the sun. There were the Sedins, while Olympic champions from 2006, still somewhat unappreciated in their home land, because they’ve had the big three - Sundin, Forsberg, Lidström - in front of them.

There was Staffan Kronwall, the brother of Niklas, who was the team captain, and led his boys to a wild song and dance number on stage, and there was Joel Lundqvist, the hard-working brother of Henrik, and the only one of the 2013 team who had been on the Kungsträdgården stage in 2006.

And there was Pär Mårts, the head coach of Team Sweden, who finally got the gold medal that has eluded him in his years behind the national team benches. And with it he got a car from Skoda, the long-time official main sponsor of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Two years ago he took his team to the World Championship final - but lost to Finland - and before that, he led the U20 national team to two silver medals and one bronze.

This time, Mårts was a winner.

“There’s no better place to get that gold medal than at home,” he said.

“We’ve felt a great unity in the group since day one, when we got to together in April. The spark was ignited, and the fire has burned since then. We’ve always believed in each other,” he added.

Mårts also noted that adding the Sedins to the team didn’t disrupt anything, as “the boys have been brought up in the Swedish system”.

In the end, it was the Swedish system that came through, and came out on top. Good defence, excellent goaltending from Jhonas Enroth, a team that pulled together. And a couple of twins from Örnsköldsvik, the heartland of hockey.

The World Championship final gathered an estimated three-million people TV audience. So did the Eurovision Song Contest from Malmö, Sweden, on Saturday. While the two audiences aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s safe to say the entire country came together on Monday, when Robin Stjernberg walked onto the stage with the championship team, and performed Sweden’s entry to the ESC: “You.”

The crowd was dancing, and the players were hopping, as Stjernberg hit all the high notes:

“Isn’t it crazy, yeah, isn’t it crazy? It’s all because of you-uu, all because of you-uuuooh.”

The home-ice ghost was nowhere to be seen.


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