MALMÖ – A month ago, Filip Forsberg didn’t know where he would end up during the Christmas holidays.
Would the 19-year-old power forward be playing for the NHL’s Nashville Predators or their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals? Or would he be continuing to recover from a concussion that he sustained in mid-November?
As it turns out, the answer was “none of the above.” After being activated from the injured reserve list just over a week ago, Forsberg was loaned to Sweden for its 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship run. It’s his third straight World Juniors, and for the second year in a row, the 187-cm, 88-kg veteran is serving as team captain.
He made his presence felt right away in Tre Kronor’s opening 5-3 win over Switzerland. The Östervåla native scored on a beautiful one-timer and set up Oscar Sundqvist’s 3-2 go-ahead goal in the first period. He added another assist on the third-period winner by Christian Djoos.
“It was a tough game against Switzerland,” Forsberg told IIHF.com. “They’re a good team that we’ve been struggling with the last couple of years. It was good to finally get the three points.”
The other tournament favourites – Canada, Russia, and the United States – all dispensed with their first-day opponents more easily than Sweden did. But the host nation is still widely considered the team to beat, consisting 50 percent of returnees from last year’s silver medal-winning team in Ufa, Russia.
“We haven’t really thought about it,” Forsberg said. “Obviously the guys did a good job beating both Canada and the U.S. before the tournament started. But we’re just trying to stay focused on every game, taking it one day at a time and trying to improve every game. We have a lot of stuff we can work on from this game.”
How does the 2014 group stack up against the Ufa squad and the team that ended a 31-year-old gold drought at the 2012 tournament in Calgary, Canada?
“It’s hard to compare teams from each year,” he said. “But there are a lot of guys from last year, so it’s pretty similar. We have a great group of guys with a lot of experience from the Swedish Hockey League. Many of them play against men all the time.”
Forsberg, the only returning member of the 2013 tournament all-star team, has had to grow up quickly himself over the last year. In addition to recovering from the concussion last month, he also experienced a “change of scenery” when Nashville acquired him from the Washington Capitals on April 3 in exchange for veteran Czech forward Martin Erat and Canadian prospect Michael Latta. Forsberg had originally been drafted 11th overall by Washington in 2012.
So far, he has a goal and four assists with Nashville this season. His first NHL goal came against Finnish goalie Niklas Bäckström of the Minnesota Wild on October 8.
But now he’s here in Malmö and has a special opportunity. If Sweden wins gold again, Forsberg and Frölunda Gothenburg’s Sebastian Collberg will become the only Swedes ever to capture two World Junior gold medals.
Forsberg, who came up through the Leksand system, knows the Malmö Arena well from playing here in Allsvenskan competition.
“We always beat Malmö when we play here with Leksand, so it feels pretty good so far,” he said with a smile.
He’s rooming with current linemate and former Leksand teammate Jacob de la Rose. His mother and father have showed up to watch him play after his last-minute addition to the roster.
And the comfort zone doesn’t end there. After sampling Canadian and Russian cuisine at the last two World Juniors, he’s also enjoying the chance to taste some traditional Swedish meatballs, cabbage and rye bread. “We had a good Christmas dinner here a couple of days ago,” he noted.
Everything is in place for Forsberg to have a truly happy start to the New Year. Now he just has to go out there and deliver. It starts with the next round-robin clash against archrival Finland on Saturday.
“The Finns are always hard,” Forsberg said. “It’s always tough games between Finland and Sweden. It’s a big rivalry. They have a great team as always. We have to be ready. I think we need to play better against them than we did today.”