Swedes in for a challenge

...and loving every minute of it.

10.05.2014
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Jimmie Ericsson is the only player who has suited up for Sweden in the last three major tournaments. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

When the reigning champions open their title defence versus Denmark, it’ll be with a squad that includes 10 players making their championship debut.

Naturally, that makes it hard knowing what to expect from the team. Historically, Swedish teams in all sports love the role of the underdog, whereas being named favourites is almost certainly an early grave for any title ambitions.

Maybe the amount of reinforcements from the National Hockey League, rookies and doubts are just perfect for a Swedish team, always loving a chance to prove doubters wrong.

Goal

New York Islander Anders Nilsson will get the start in the first game versus Denmark, and has the edge coming in to the tournament, although Utica Comets Joacim Eriksson will also get to see action.

Nilsson, 24, has a huge 195 cm, 100-kilogram frame and technically sound, but has at times struggled with consistency. The agile and acrobatic Eriksson has just finished his first season in North America, where he appeared in 52 games in the AHL and also got to make his NHL-debut with the Vancouver Canucks.

Defence

Erik Gustafsson of the Philadelphia Flyers will suit up, making him the one of two NHL additions on the Swedish blueline. The Nashville Predator Mattias Ekholm (62-1-8-9), who will start as his defensive partner.

Also from across the Atlantic comes Tim Erixon, an AHL all-star from the Springfield Falcons, who posted 37 points in 39 AHL contests this season. He will be paired with Lulea’s Johan Fransson, quite possibly one of the best skating defensemen to ever come out of Sweden.

In the third defensive pairing, Linkoping’s Daniel Rahimi will provide a physical presence.

Forward

The first line heading into the tournament has seen Calgary Flames centerman Mikael Backlund join Skelleftea duo Oscar Moller and Joakim Lindstrom. The latter was named player of the year in the SHL and also won the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, as Skelleftea won the championship for the second year in a row.

Lindström and Möller have formed a deadly duo on the club level and have quickly developed a good chemistry with Backlund, both on even strength and on the power play.

Another line that should provide offensively for Sweden sees Detroit Red Wing Gustav Nyquist joining Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok and Skelleftea’s Jimmie Ericsson, the lone player from the SHL playing for Sweden in Sochi. Nyquist has enjoyed a breakthrough season in the NHL, scoring 28 times and adding 22 helpers in only 57 games.

The squad is as usual heavy on players from the SHL, and one player who to watch is Linkoping’s Simon Hjalmarsson, who has a tenacity and vision that should translate well into international hockey.

Coaching

There’s not denying that Head Coach Par Marts has gotten the kind of results Tre Kronor fans want. Given the successful World Championships run in 2013 and the Olympic silver in Sochi, Marts and the rest of the Tre Kronor coaching staff enters to the tournament riding a wave of confidence.

Projected results

Sweden should do fine in Group A play and will challenge Canada and the Czech Republic for the top position heading into the quarter-finals. But given the number of players making their debut and the relatively inexperienced goaltending tandem, a new gold medal winning effort is unlikely.

Reaching the semi-finals and ending up with the bronze would be a good result for the Swedes, all things considered.

PETER WESTERMARK

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