UFA – It’s too early to say whether the 2013 World Juniors will turn out as well for Filip Forsberg as last year’s Swedish run to gold in Calgary did. But there are already a few key differences.
For one, the classy 18-year-old centre is wearing the captain’s C this year, taking over from Johan Larsson, who’s graduated from the U20 ranks and now plays for the AHL’s Houston Aeros.
“My role might be a little bit bigger this year,” Forsberg told IIHF.com after Sweden’s opening 4-1 win over the Czech Republic. “I’m supposed to be one of the key players in the team. I’m just going to play as well as possible and be a little bit more of a leader, saying stuff in the locker room. But I don’t want to change anything. I want to play the same game as I do usually and be the same guy outside.”
Maintaining the same approach is fine, but another difference here that had to make Forsberg happy was scoring his first-ever goal in U20 competition – the 4-0 goal against the Czechs, which he roofed stylishly.
Last year, the Leksand prospect was limited to one assist in six games. It didn’t harm Tre Kronor’s final outcome, but this year, they’ll need Forsberg’s line with Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson to click.
“I think we played pretty well together [against the Czechs],” Forsberg said. “We’re getting better and better. The third period was our best period. Hopefully we can become even closer and play better in the coming games.”
Head coach Roger Rönnberg is in his final tour of duty behind Sweden’s U20 bench. He’ll need some clutch performances from Forsberg and other core players if the 41-year-old is to deliver a second straight gold before handing over the reins to current U18 bench boss Rikard Grönborg.
Admittedly, important names like Mika Zibanejad, Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, and Jesper Pettersson are missing from the Swedish lineup, but Forsberg believes that others can fill the gap.
“They’re pretty good players, but we have a lot of good players here too,” the 185-cm, 85-kg forward said. “It’s not like we’re worried because we don’t have those guys. We have a good chance to win this year too.”
Forsberg also relishes Rönnberg’s interesting players-first approach, which sees team members taking extra responsibility and being vocal with one another about what it takes to win.
“He talks a lot, and I like it,” Forsberg said. “Everyone has to follow high standards, but at the same time, he lets the players coach the most. That’s something I like. I take it more seriously if [another player] tells me I need to work hard than one of the coaches. It’s a pretty good way.”
If Forsberg’s current upward career trajectory continues, he’ll find himself in the spotlight more and more often. The first-round pick of the NHL’s Washington Capitals (11th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft could become a key player in the quest to bring a Stanley Cup to America’s governing city for the first time.
NHL Director of European Scouting Göran Stubb has even compared Forsberg’s style to that of Canada’s Corey Perry, whose IIHF resume includes gold medals at the 2005 World Juniors and 2010 Olympics.
But for now, life’s pretty simple in Ufa for Forsberg. Stay out of the cold. Play video games and cards with the boys at the hotel. Eat right and get some sleep. And be ready to face Switzerland on Friday night.
“They’re a good team,” Forsberg said. “We played them last year and it was tied 3-3 in regulation [before Max Friberg’s shootout winner]. They’re a hard opponent. They play a little bit like the Czechs, backing off and waiting for our mistakes. It’s an important game for us.”