STOCKHOLM – The Swedes would like to forget last year. What was supposed to be one, big hockey fest, the first of two, ended with a too-early exit for Tre Kronor, as Milan Michalek beat Viktor Fasth with just 29 seconds remaining in the quarter-final game against the Czechs.
And that with fourteen NHLers on the roster.
The good news was that Stockholm was going to get the host the tournament this year, too. This year it is Sweden who can beat the home-ice curse – no home team has won the World Championship gold medal since the Soviet Union did it in 1986 – because the final will be played in the Globe Arena.
In that game, the arena will be full. And should Sweden be on the ice, 2012 will be considered ancient history.
Jakob Markström has been the King-in-waiting for a few years, the torchbearer for the times when Henrik Lundqvist retires. This year, the 198-centimetre tall goalie from Gävle, Sweden, finally got his break in the NHL where he played 21 games for the struggling Florida Panthers. While his numbers aren’t too impressive, he did show a lot of promise. Markström also played for coach Pär Mårts in two World Juniors, so both men know what to expect from each other.
Then again, Jhonas Enroth also played for Mårts in the World Juniors, and he, too, showed a lot of promise playing 12 games for the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL this season. Unlike many of the top goalies these days, Enroth, at 180 centimetres, is not a tall monster, but he compensates that with his quickness and hockey smarts.
Sweden’s third goalie is young Johan Gustafsson from Luleå in the Swedish Elitserien. Well, he’s only 21, whereas Markström and Enroth are 23 and 24, respectively.
There’s a first time for everything. For Henrik Tallinder, 34, the first time to play for Sweden in a World Championship tournament is now. He brings size to the defence, something Mårts has looked to add to his team every year.
For Erik Gustafsson, 24, the World Championship will be the first time he gets to wear a Team Sweden sweater at all.
“He’s a fantastic player,” said Mårts.
Those two are expected to be the lock-down pair for the team that doesn’t have an Erik Karlsson on it, but then again, who does? Staffan Kronwall also adds size and a good shot to the defence.
Loui Eriksson led the team in goal scoring last year, and was second in points with 5+8=13 points in eight games, good enough for a fourth place in the tournament scoring. Eriksson is now entering his third straight World Championship. “He has a phenomenal hockey sense, and we’ll try to use him as much as possible,” Mårts said.
Gabriel Landeskog is also one of the forwards returning from last year’s tournament, together with Joel Lundqvist, Fredrik Pettersson, and Niklas Persson, who will bring grit and leadership to the team.
Another interesting player to keep an eye on is Dick Axelsson, a skilled playmaker, who has for years been on the verge of a breakthrough, but hasn’t been able to take the next step. Here’s his chance.
Besides the Olympic gold he won as the assistant coach in the 1994 Olympics, there’s a lot of silver on Pär Mårts’s résumé. The 60-year-old Swede took his team to the World Championship final in 2011, and before that, the U20 national team to two silver medals and one bronze. He also has a silver medal from the 1992 World Juniors. And two more silvers as the assistant coach of Team Sweden (1993 and 1995). And one silver as a player with the AIK Stockholm.
But he also coached HV71 to the Swedish title in 2004. Now is the perfect time for Mårts – who’s under contract through the 2014 Olympics – to get a big win. He’s conscientious, he’s thorough, he’s a good communicator, and he likes to think outside of the box.
Last year was a practice run. Both Mårts, the team, the players, everybody in the organization know what it’s like when Circus World Championshipimus rolls into town. While Mårts will certainly keep one eye on the Stanley Cup playoffs to see if he can add Henrik Zetterberg or Erik Karlsson to the team, he will not let the hype get out of hand. He told his key players, playing in Sweden and the KHL, already in February that they’d be on the World Championship team, to make sure he had his core players onboard and ready to go.