Battle for top spot ahead

Swedes wary of Canada’s young guns

18.05.2014
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Chizhovka Arena Minsk  Belarus

Canada's Nathan MacKinnon (#29) stickhandles the puck around the net with Slovakia's Jan Brejcak (#91) chasing. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images

In today's early game in Chizhovka Arena, Sweden and Canada will face off in a battle for top spot in Group A.

Mikael Backlund and Gustav Nyquist are two of the players on Team Sweden that know the most about Canada’s full NHL-roster.

”It’ll be a tough game but a fun game to play,” said Mikael Backlund, the first line centreman, who also plays for the Calgary Flames. “They have a lot of young talent on their team. Nathan MacKinnon is one player that we definitely have to look out for. Cody Hodgson has been really good also. They also have a couple of offensively skilled defencemen like Ellis and Rielly to put out there on the power play that we’ll have to look out.”

Ryan Ellis has taken on a big role with Team Canada, recording three assists so far to go along with a +6 rating. His average ice-time is at 20:04 per game, making him third among Canadian defencemen, after captain Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison, both of the Vancouver Canucks.

The 22-year-old Rielly is coming off his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he had 27 points from 73 games. In the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Canada has opted to use him mainly as a seventh defenceman so far, as he has averaged 7:25 of ice time per game.

But it’s hard to argue with Backlund naming Hogdson, the tournament leader in goals with six, and MacKinnon, a 19-year-old star with the Colorado Avalanche and the favourite to win the NHL:s Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year, as players to look out for.

Still a teenager, MacKinnon had 62 points in 82 games in his debut season in the NHL. He also had a very successful run in the playoffs, scoring 10 points in seven games.

As a comparison, the only Swede that comes close to Nathan MacKinnon’s numbers for the season is Detroit Red Wing Gustav Nyquist, who had 28 goals and 20 assists in only 57 regular season games.

Agreeing with Backlund on the fact Sweden is about the face a young and offensively, gifted team, Nyquist also sees an opportunity to take advantage of just that fact.

“It’s only natural that such a young team lacks a bit of experience,” said Nyquist after the 3-1 win over Slovakia, Sweden’s best game of the tournament so far. “Also, we need to take advantage of the fact that they’re not as accustomed to the bigger ice-surface as we are and make the most of that.”

For Sweden, a key is to make sure that James Reimer or Ben Scrivens in the Canadian net, who has been sharing starting duties so far, get’s no easy job.

“I think we need to make it hard on Canada’s goalies,” said Backlund, perhaps eyeing a weak spot on an otherwise solid team. “It's important for us to create a lot of traffic in front of them, take a lot of shots and hopefully get the first goal.”

Sweden and Canada are quite used to face off at the very highest level of hockey, having played each other 63 times in World Championship play. Canada has the edge going in with 32 wins. Sweden has 26.

This afternoon, 16.45 local time, the puck drops in game 64.

PETER WESTERMARK

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