BRNO – Filip Forsberg knows a thing or two about IIHF championships. Fresh off winning gold as the youngest player on Sweden’s U20 team, Forsberg has now assumed the captaincy for his country at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
Bringing World Junior championship gold home to Sweden, for the first time in 31 years, was a surreal experience for the 17-year-old, who was far from assured of making the team in the first place.
“I was visiting a friend and just hanging around when I got a call from [national U20 team coach] Roger Ronnberg, and he said that I was on the team, of course I was so happy to hear that and definitely surprised,” said Forsberg. “But had I played well in an earlier tournament in Finland and I knew that I had a chance.
Forsberg’s experience at the U20 was something the younger Swedish forward won’t soon forget, especially the moment when he took to the ice with his team following Mika Zibanejad’s overtime goal in the championship final.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling, at the time it was hard to believe that we had actually won the gold, it was an amazing feeling to see the puck go it, run out on the ice and throw my equipment up in the air.”
The triumphant return to his country following the tournament included a huge reception in Stockholm and a meeting with Sweden’s royal family. After seeing the hero’s welcome that the Swedish men’s national team received in past years, the last thing Forsberg expected was to receive a similar reception when the juniors returned from Alberta.
“I never dreamed I’d get the chance to meet the royal family and it was a big honour for me to meet them and talk to them,” said Forsberg. “It was interesting to see that they are like regular people, and it was definitely cool to talk hockey with the crown prince.”
Forsberg has come a long way from his hometown of Östervåla, Sweden, a town of about 15,000 people, some 100 kilometres north of Stockholm.
But he came through the junior program of Leksand, one of Sweden’s most popular clubs which currently competes at the senior level in Sweden’s second-tier league. When he was a16-year-old on Leksand’s under-20 team this past season, Forsberg led his squad in scoring with 14 goals and 29 points in 26 games and a plus-19 rating. His performance was good enough to land the teenager a roster spot on the men’s senior team this year.
“It’s funny when you look at a teammate and he’s got a beard that’s just gross (laughs),” said Forsberg. “But I just try to keep playing my game because that’s what got me there. Of course they are bigger and stronger and that’s the biggest difference
At the 2011 U18 championship in Germany, Forsberg put his skills as a strong two-way forward on display on the international stage, putting up six points in six games and not surrendering an even-strength goal when he was on the ice. With Forsberg and U20 teammates Mika Zibanejad and Oscar Klefbom, Sweden made it to the final game but fell to the defending champions United States. Now Forsberg is attempting to return to the championship game, but will have to do so with a new cast of teammates.
“We were very close last year, and I feel we have an even bigger opportunity to win in this year,” said Forsberg. “I don’t feel any personal pressure as long as I do what I need to do every day. I think the teams are pretty similar, Sweden has a lot of good young hockey players and it shows in this team.”
Forsberg’s biggest on-ice, influence, apart from his father Patrik who used to play in Sweden’s second tier league and in Norway’s top league, is former NHLer and Swedish hockey star Peter Forsberg. And no, they’re not related.
“He was a very good player so if I can I want to copy everything from him (laughs) I try to take most from him his offensive hits,” said Forsberg. “He wasn’t the biggest guy but still played pretty tough.”
As for Forsberg’s personal goals, he is aiming to take the same path as his idol.
“Try to be as good as I can possibly be and try to make the NHL,” said Forsberg. “I know it’s a hard road to get there and I have to work every day as hard as I can to reach that goal.”
He is well on his way now. Coming into the 2012 NHL draft, Forsberg is the highest-rated prospect currently playing in Europe, and is a product of a Swedish junior program that has grown in leaps and bounds in recent year.
“I can say that some years ago it was not so good,” said Forsberg. “Then they started a program to improve it and now we are beginning to see the results, it’s great right now and I hope it stays like this.”