BRATISLAVA – Over the years, Sweden and Germany have played only three games against each other in the World Championships. Sweden has a 2-1 record, and up until this year, they’ve played practically once a decade – 1992, 2002, and 2010 – which is not the stuff that great rivalries are made of.
It has a lot of potential to become a good rivalry, though.
Last year, Germany surprised everybody when it went all the way to the semi-final, and pushed Sweden all the way to the end in the bronze medal game, until Jonas Andersson scored an empty-netter, his second of the night, with 33 seconds remaining in the game. Then, 32 seconds later, with just 0.7 seconds remaining in the game, Sweden took a timeout, and made a goalie change, making Anders Lindbäck officially a part of the 2010 bronze-medal team, with one second played to his credit.
That stirred the pot a little. German fans and team didn’t appreciate having to stand around on the ice, while the Sweden high-fived each other on the other bench.
Now, Gustafsson did it after his players urged him to do it and make fun of the Swedish media who had criticized Gustafsson for not taking a timeout in the semi-final game.
That’s all water under the bridge, says Justin Krueger, Germany’s defenceman, who’s seen fifth most ice time on his team.
“Last year is last year. This year is this year. That’s not going to be an issue,” he said about the timeout.
“We’re looking forward to playing Sweden. They're always a tough team to play against, they play well as a team, and they have a very high skill level. It's going to be a tough battle,” he said.
While Germany and Sweden have only played those three World Championship games, these two teams are well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The teams played two exhibition games in early April with Sweden coming out on top both times, 2-0 and 2-1.
“We were up in Sweden for preparation games, but they’ve added quality players to the team we played then. I am sure that they play the same system as in those games, but they have more skill,” Krueger said.
Sweden has only let in ten goals in its six games in the tournament, and Viktor Fasth, the best goaltender in the Swedish Elitserien, has recorded three shutouts, and posted a 98.26 save percentage. His goal against average is 0.50.
An impressive record that didn’t seem to have any effect on Krueger. When he was asked if he knew who Fasth was, the 24-year-old SC Bern defenceman asked the reporter to repeat the name, before he shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
“No, sorry, don’t know who he is, but I guess I will have to look him up now,” he said.
Germany clinched their quarterfinal berth with two games remaining in the Qualification Round which has given Uwe Krupp and his staff plenty of time to get the team ready for tonight’s game, even if they haven’t know who they’d be facing until the last game of the Qualification Round.
“It doesn't matter who we’ll be facing, we're just trying to do out best. The tournament is like a mini-season, and you can’t worry about who you’re playing next because the rankings change all the time,” said Krueger.
While the team hasn’t had to deal with the pressure of must-win games in the tournament yet, Krueger says they haven’t been saving energy, either.
"You just have to move on and play your game. You can't start to save energy here, you'll lose your rhythm as a team," he said.
Tonight, Germany will play their big Game 7 of the tournament. The rhythm has to be there.