STOCKHOLM – The 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship will inevitably feature individual performances that demonstrate triumph over adversity, expectations exceeded, or those that go unmet.
Both teams and athletes find themselves under the microscope in a tournament such as this. Erik Gustafsson will be one such player.
A rookie to the men’s senior national team, Gustafsson spent a short season in the NHL proving he belongs there and an above-average performance here can improve his chances of earning a starting roster spot in 2013/2014.
More than anything else right now, Gustafsson is savouring the chance to represent Sweden at the highest level of annual international hockey competition and in his home country.
“It’s such an honour playing for Team Sweden. I wish the outcome was different,” he said, hinting the lost game Switzerland on the opening day. ”I was a little nervous and didn’t play one of my best games but certainly not my worst either, so I’m looking forward to doing better in this tournament.”
What’s more, Gustafsson has never had the opportunity before to represent Tre Kronor internationally on any level.
“This is something I dreamt about since I was a little kid watching Forsberg, Sundin and all those guys competing for Sweden.”
This season Gustafsson has made people aware of what he’s capable of. After spending parts of two seasons between the Philadelphia Flyers and their minor league affiliate Adirondack Phantoms, Gustafsson seems poised for a bigger role next year.
Gustafsson has taken an alternate path to the NHL. After two years with Timra IK’s junior team, Gustafsson decided on a move to the United States and enrolled in college at Northern Michigan University.
“I thought I was a pretty decent hockey player when I was younger but needed a little bit more time to develop, get stronger and mature my game some more,” he said. “The best opportunity for me was to come to North America and play college.”
While the great majority of Swedish players with talent opt for the Swedish junior route, or perhaps play major junior hockey in Canada, Gustafsson took a different path by playing college hockey in North America.
“My coach gave me a lot of opportunities and helped me to mature as a hockey player and a human being, which was good for me.”
In his three years playing for the Wildcats, Gustafsson scored seven goals and was an assist machine with 86 helpers in 123 games.
“My whole first year was a learning experience. The first two months were tough but the coaches and my teammates took care of me. I got to play in key situations and that helped my confidence from year one on.”
Undrafted, Gustafsson signed with the Flyers as a free agent after college.
Gustafsson has the possibility of developing into a puck moving defenceman and power-play performer. He’s been hampered by injuries on this wrist and foot over the past few years that may have set him back in becoming a full time player with the Flyers already.
With no options left to be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers, 2013-14 becomes a big season for Gustafsson who can earn a starting spot on the Philadelphia Flyers defensive corps.