BRATISLAVA – It may not always have been pretty, but the Swedes have got the job done. They lost their opening game of the tournament to Norway, and they’ve struggled a bit in other games, but they didn’t lose their quarter-finals, simply because that’s not just the way that Sweden operates.
Tre Kronor is through to the semi-final for 11th consecutive time, and they’ve been outside the medal games just twice since 1992.
“Must be the coach,” Pär Mårts said jokingly at the post-game press conference on Wednesday.
He was then quick to give full credit to the players, but it should be noted that Mårts has put together the biggest coaching staff in Sweden’s hockey history. All in all, counting equipment managers and other support staff, he’s got 15 people working with him during the tournament, from video coaches to psychological coaches to goalie coach to a scout.
Now they all have rolled up their sleeves in an attempt to find the holes in the Czechs’ game.
“Stopping Jagr is the key,” Mårts says.
“The U.S. was close to beating the Czechs, they had their chances especially in the first period. We’ll try to take Jagr out of play, and not give him the time and space to dominate. We managed to do that in Brno [at a pre-Worlds tournament], but then we had Niclas Grossman,” he said.
With Grossman out with an injury, Mårts will have to find other ways to eliminate the 39-year-old hockey genius. It won’t be easy with the way Jagr protects the puck, and finds those pockets inside the defence where he can strike from.
“We’ll have to have somebody pay special attention to him, not sure who could have the strength and weight to stand against him. Maybe we’ll have to throw in [assistant coach] Peter Popovic,” Mårts said.
Matching lines against Jagr’s line may not be easy, as the Czechs will be the home team in the game, but Mårts doesn’t expect the game to turn into chess like that anyway.
“We’ll try to have somebody out there to meet him, but we’re not focused only on matching lines. Since they have the last change, we’ll have to keep one step ahead all the time,” he said.
“The Czechs know how to play the transition game and we have to be ready for that,” he added.
The Czechs will surely be the home team, in not just that they get the last line change. The crowd will surely be mostly behind them.
But Mårts is more than confident that his Tre Kronor, this young group of players, can and will beat the Czechs. After all, they did beat the Czechs 4-2 at the Czech Hockey Games in Brno, just five days before the World Championship. That win, and the experience of having played in front of a fanatic home crowd, will be useful now that Sweden gets ready to meet the Czechs again, believes Mårts.
“The atmosphere was great in Brno, and not only did we beat them, we were also the better team in the game,” he said.
The active style of play that Mårts has been preaching is also how Tre Kronor will approach the semi-final. Even if it makes the coach’s heart skip a beat at times.
“We have a lot of offensively-minded defencemen like Tim [Erixon], Oliver [Ekman-Larsson], and David [Rundblad], who’ll have to get to play their own game, so that they can take the next step and develop, even if I sometimes feel my heart in my throat watching them play. I’ll just have to close my eyes and trust them,” Mårts said.
“The tournament is about winning, the history books won’t tell you how we did it. Of course, we want to play well because it helps us to win, and that’s why we work on the execution. Now I know that we can play even better and that feels good,” he added.