Returning for his second straight tour of duty as Sweden’s U20 national team coach, Monten knows the IIHF’s annual Christmastime showcase well. Counting his two stints as an assistant to Rikard Gronborg in 2014 and 2015, the well-spoken Borlange native has stood behind the bench at four World Juniors.
After settling for silver against Canada with a 3-1 loss in last winter’s final in Buffalo, Monten has an opportunity to put his mark on this year’s team, which is expected to bring a more workmanlike identity.
“It’s a new group for us,” Monten said. “It’s a lot of players that haven’t played for a while in the national team. We’re anxious to get going.”
The challenges are evident. Elite defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, the number one overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres, is highly unlikely to suit up at the 2019 tournament in Vancouver and Victoria (26 December to 5 January). Likewise, SHL scoring leader Elias Pettersson is poised to play for the Vancouver Canucks this season. Filip Gustavsson, an Ottawa Senators prospect who was named 2018’s Best Goalie and a tournament all-star with a 1.81 GAA and 92.4 save percentage, has aged out. It’s time for different players to step up.
The team-building process is already underway at the Sport Chek World Junior Showcase, pitting Sweden against Finland, the United States, and host Canada. The 11-game exhibition tournament is taking place in Kamloops. The city of 90,000 in the Interior of British Columbia co-hosted the 2006 World Juniors with Vancouver and Kelowna, hosted the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, and bills itself as “Canada’s Tournament Capital.”
Sweden’s Juniorkronorna is still figuring things out. After outskating the USA Blue split squad in a 3-1 opening win on Monday, they lost 4-3 to the Finns in a shootout on Tuesday and 5-4 to the full American squad in overtime on Thursday, squandering two early goals by Rickard Hugg and leads of 2-0, 3-1, and 4-3, before losing 4-1 to Canada on Friday night.
Regardless, it’s clear Monten commands the respect of his players, from returning veterans to hopeful newcomers.
“Pretty calm coach,” said 18-year-old defenceman Adam Ginning, who captained Sweden to a bronze medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in April. “He doesn’t blow up too much. I think it’s good. He’s trying to point out positive things all the time and pays big attention to details.”
Top offensive defenceman Adam Boqvist, entering his first World Juniors, could see a heavy workload under Monten. At the World Juniors in Buffalo, Dahlin averaged 23:08 per game. Boqvist, Chicago’s 2018 first-round pick (eighth overall), isn’t quite on Dahlin’s level, but his responsibilities could increase if blueliners like Erik Brannstrom (Vegas) and Timothy Liljegren (Toronto) are unavailable.
“We don’t want to play every guy 23 minutes,” Monten said with a laugh. “But some games, it goes like that. It depends on how much power play time you get, how many offensive-zone faceoffs. Those are the areas where players like Rasmus and Adam are going to contribute. You’ve got to put them in those kinds of situations to give them a chance to make their plays. But I think it’s a good thing for Adam to be here with us because he’s going to stay over here [with the OHL’s London Knights]. It’s the only chance we have to work with him. Hopefully he’ll have a good season and come back for the World Juniors.”
While the likes of forwards Jonatan Berggren (Skelleftea AIK) and Isac Lundestrom (Lulea HF) are capable of generating offence, Monten knows he’ll need contributions throughout the line-up. Could an under-the-radar prospect like the undrafted, hard-hitting 19-year-old Marcus Sylvegard (Malmo Redhawks) chip in?
“He works hard and I think he had a really good run at home before the World Juniors last year,” said Monten. “He was actually in the mix. But then afterwards he was a little bit back-and-forth between his club team and the [Allsvenskan clubs] he was loaned to. I think he’s a player that a lot of teams maybe looked at before the draft, but I think they felt his skating isn’t good enough. But on the smaller rink, I think he can manage.”
Summer is a good time to reflect on the connections between Sweden’s recent senior success as two-time World Champions and the work of its U20 program. The U20 national team is preparing to seek their first gold medal since Mika Zibanejad’s thrilling 1-0 overtime winner against the Russians in Calgary in 2012.
Monten noted that many players who participated in May’s IIHF World Championship triumph in Copenhagen were also on the 2012 World Junior team. Zibanejad, Rikard Rakell, John Klingberg, Filip Forsberg, and Johan Larsson all played important roles.
“We have had a lot of players who were playing over here this year in Denmark and the year before [in Paris and Cologne]. We got a lot of players coming back. I think we had over 150 Swedes playing in North America. For us to get a good team, we have to get some of them coming back. That was the issue with the Olympics. We need to get the right players to come home, and this year was really fun because it was a young core. It was the core that won the gold in Calgary for us. Now they did it again. It’s a good group.”
Monten also paid tribute to Torgny Bendelin, who has just retired from coaching in the Swedish national team program. The affable 62-year-old, who served as head coach at the World Juniors from 2005 to 2007, finished up by leading the U18 team to bronze in Chelyabinsk, Russia. In 2018-19, Bendelin will supervise youth hockey and work as an assistant coach with the Austrian club EHC Lustenau.
“He’s been really important,” Monten said. “He’s one of the guys that got me started. One of my first national team experiences was as an assistant coach for Torgny when he had the U20s for the first time. He’s a really nice friend and he’s a good coach. He still coaches development and he has a lot of clinics and does things for us. I’m happy for him. I think he’ll have a good year this year in Europe and see something new. He really deserves all the credit.”
Of course, winning a gold medal in Vancouver on 5 January would be the nicest homage of all that Monten could pay to Bendelin. Who needs a red sports car?