MALMÖ – As Malmö gears up to host the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, it’s worth taking a look back at Sweden’s top-10 all-time moments in this tournament. Here are IIHF.com’s picks, listed in chronological order.
1. Good Start for Gustafsson (1977)
Even though Sweden finished a modest fifth in the first official IIHF World Junior Championship in Czechoslovakia, centre Bengt-Åke Gustafsson made his mark by becoming the first Swede ever named to a tournament all-star team.
It was a harbinger of things to come. The Karlskoga product became a nine-year NHL star with Washington and captured two IIHF World Championship gold medals (1987, 1991). But Gustafsson’s greatest achievement came in 2006, when he coached Tre Kronor to the historic “double gold”, making Sweden the first nation ever to win the Olympics (Turin) and Worlds (Riga) in the same year.
2. Striking Silver (1978)
The Swedes won their first World Junior medal ever at this tournament in Montreal, taking silver after a 5-2 loss to the powerful Soviet Union in the final.
Coming second was a fine achievement, considering the Soviets iced budding superstars like Vyacheslav Fetisov and Sergei Makarov. Third-place Canada was headlined by 16-year-old tournament scoring leader Wayne Gretzky. For Sweden, Mats Näslund was named to the tournament all-stars.
3. There’s No Place Like Home (1979)
Sweden’s inaugural hosting of the World Juniors took place in 1979, with Karlskoga and Karlstad doing the honors.
Once again, the Soviets just had too much firepower for the blue-and-yellow boys, defeating them 7-5 in the tournament closer. The USSR claimed the gold, the Czechoslovakians took the silver, and Sweden, backstopped by star goalie Pelle Lindbergh, settled for bronze.
4. First Gold in Germany (1981)
Future NHLers such as Jan Erixon and Patrik Sundström helped the Swedes win their first-ever gold in Kaufbeuren, West Germany.
Interestingly, this team wasn’t particularly star-studded, especially compared to other Swedish World Junior rosters. While Erixon was nominated for the 1988 Selke Trophy and Sundström put up 588 career NHL points, Patrik’s twin brother Peter and defenceman Michael Thelven had more modest NHL careers. Another blueliner, Jens Öhling, played well at two Olympics (1984, 1988).
5. Andersson’s Blue Line Bonanza (1985)
You never celebrate when a team finishes fifth. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Peter Andersson’s 14 points in seven games for Sweden in Helsinki remains the highest single-tournament total ever for a defenceman at the World Juniors. Nobody from Fetisov to Brian Leetch to Erik Karlsson has been able to surpass it.
Andersson would play 47 games with the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers between 1992 and 1994. But this Örebro native, a three-time World Championship medalist, is best-known for spending most of his Elitserien career with the Malmö Redhawks, where he twice served as captain.
6. Forsberg and Näslund Run Wild (1993)
On paper, this was arguably the best team Sweden has ever iced at the World Juniors. Its inability to deliver gold for the home fans in Gävle was a big disappointment.
Yet Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund, playing on the top line with Niklas Sundström, certainly didn’t disappoint with their offensive wizardry, most blatantly displayed in a 20-1 win over Japan. Forsberg set single-tournament records that still stand with 24 assists and 31 points. Näslund did likewise with his 13 goals, as Sweden finished second.
7. Five in a Row (1996)
Longtime head coach Tommy Tomth was never able to win gold with his talented rosters from 1992 to 1995, earning three silvers and a bronze. And Tomth’s successor, Harald Lückner, also fell short with 1996’s silver.
But the silver lining, so to speak, was that 1996 marked Sweden’s longest streak of consecutive medals ever – five – at the World Juniors.
8. Playing Streak-Stoppers (2008)
There was a time when Canada looked completely invincible at the World Juniors. Entering a round-robin game with Sweden in Pardubice, Czech Republic, the Canadians had won 20 straight games.
However, the Swedes showed great resilience here, rallying from a 2-0 third-period deficit for the victory and ending Canada’s streak. Tobias Forsberg scored the winner with seven seconds left.
Although the Swedes would fall 3-2 to Canada in the gold medal game on Matt Halischuk’s overtime goal, it was a major step forward for their program. Stunningly, that silver was the first Swedish World Junior medal since 1996.
9. A 31-Year Drought Ends (2012)
None of the members of the 2012 Swedish World Junior team were alive when Tre Kronor won its only previous gold medal in 1981. But none of that mattered when Mika Zibanejad scored the spectacular overtime goal that lifted Sweden to a 1-0 final victory over Russia at the Calgary Saddledome.
It was a tribute not only to the hard work of the players, but also to the genius of Tommy Boudstedt, longtime director of youth and junior development for the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. Under Boudstedt’s guidance, Sweden returned its focus to skills development and mental toughness in lieu of programmatic defensive play.
10. Undermanned Ufa Team Overachieves (2013)
Is it really a surprise when a Swedish team makes the World Junior final nowadays? Not with four such appearances in the last six years (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013). But the 2013 silver medal was no walk in the park, as all the contending nations brought stacked rosters due to the NHL work stoppage.
Injuries and NHL organizational decisions deprived coach Roger Rönnberg of some of his best talent, including Zibanejad and defencemen Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, Hampus Lindholm, and Jesper Pettersson.
Still, that didn’t cow the Swedes. Their well-organized play and knack for prevailing in shootouts caught everyone’s attention in Ufa, Russia. Only in the closing 3-1 loss to the John Gibson-backstopped Americans did they falter.