Sweden's redemption enigma
by Andy Potts|12 MAY 2022
Oliver Ekman-Larsson will take the ice in Tampere.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Whenever Sweden makes the short journey to its Nordic neighbour in Finland, local rivalry adds spice to the battles ahead. But this year, there’s more than just Baltic bragging rights at stake.

A year ago, the Tre Kronor hit an unprecedented low: for the first time, Sweden failed to qualify for the knock-out stage. The Beijing Olympics offered little to soothe that pain, with the Swedes missing out on a medal after losing to Slovakia in the bronze medal game. So, for head coach Johan Garpenlov, a strong showing in Tampere is essential to quell the murmurs of discontent among Swedish fans.

Redemption seemed a long way off at the end of April, when a 9-3 defeat against Czechia set an unwanted record: Sweden’s heaviest loss to the Czechs since Czechoslovakia separated. However, as NHL reinforcements arrived, Sweden rallied. Sunday's 4-3 victory over Finland secured first place overall in this year's Euro Hockey Tour. It's a small prize, but it could be an important step in the right direction. And if it proves to be a precursor of the gold-medal game in Tampere on May 29, the Swedes could not be happier.


Sweden’s goalies have little World Championship experience, despite one of them owning a gold medal. Magnus Hellberg, who recently signed a short-term contract with the Red Wings, was part of the golden roster in 2018, where he played understudy to Anders Nilsson in Copenhagen.

He’s joined by Marcus Hogberg, who returned to Sweden with Linkoping this season after four seasons in the Senators organization. The 27-year-old is back in international action for the first time since 2014, putting up good numbers in his three Euro Tour appearances.

Oscar Dansk, who has a handful of NHL appearances with Vegas and spent last season with Spartak Moscow in the KHL, gets his first senior international call. His last involvement with the national team was back in 2014 when he was voted top goalie as Sweden won World Junior silver.


On defence there is no shortage of experience. Four of Sweden eight blue liners come directly from the NHL and three of them have World Championship hardware.

Oliver Ekman Larsson needs little introduction: a two-time World Champion, Swedish captain in his last tournament in 2019, he’s poised to add to his 50 appearances in this competition. Erik Gustafsson is another World Champion. He played alongside Ekman Larsson on the 2018 roster and returns to the Tre Kronor after a full season with the Blackhawks. Adam Larsson was also part of the winning 2018 team, where he was selected on the tournament All-Star team. Since then he moved from Edmonton to Seattle, wearing the ‘A’ in the Kraken’s debut season.

Rasmus Dahlin is the NHL outlier here. Aged 22, his senior international experience is limited but his potential is huge. In 2018 he was the #1 NHL draft pick, taken by the Sabres; this season, despite Buffalo’s on-going problems, he contributed 53 (13+40) points. That’s third in team scoring and 13th in the NHL among defencemen. Perhaps surprisingly, this will be his first World Championship.

There’s depth here as well, with four more players bringing a wealth of experience from around Europe. Henrik Tommernes captained his country in Riga last year and wore the ‘A’ at the Olympics. An attack-minded D-man, he produced more than a point a game for Geneve-Servette in Switzerland this season. Anton Lindholm, 27, spent last season with Dynamo Minsk, returning to Europe after four seasons with the Avalanche organization that brought 66 NHL appearances. From Sweden’s domestic championship, Christian Folin and Jonathan Pudas spent their seasons with Frolunda and Skelleftea respectively. Pudas made his World Championship debut last year while Folin, now 31, gets his first action at this level after going to his first international tournament in Beijing.


The Swedish forward line is rather different – and much younger. There are just two NHLers involved, and both are very much in the ‘prospect’ category. Rasmus Asplund, 24, makes his IIHF debut after playing 80 games for Buffalo this season. The centre had 27 (8+19) points for the Sabres. Emil Bemstrom, currently an RFA with the Blue Jackets, made the unusual decision to come to the Worlds without an active NHL contract. The 24-year-old hopes that his debut in this tournament can enhance his reputation across the Atlantic. However, there’s disappointment that the likes of Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson, Seattle’s experienced Alexander Wennberg or Gustav Nyquist of the Blue Jackets were not available this time.

For greater experience, Sweden looks to its Olympic returnees: Mathias Brome, Max Friberg, Carl Klingberg, Joakim Nordstrom and Lucas Wallmark all played in Beijing. Wallmark, in particular, caught the eye in China, scoring in each of his first five games before he was silenced by Team ROC in a shoot-out loss in the semi-final. He wears the ‘A’ here, Nordstrom will captain the team. 

There are World Championship debuts for Leksands playmaker Oskar Lang and centres Anton Bengtsson and Joel Kellman of Rogle and Vaxjo respectively. All three are in their mid-late 20s and will relish the chance to represent their country at this level.

Among the youngsters, there’s a buzz around Elmer Soderblom. The 20-year-old Red Wings prospect is a giant – standing 202 cm and weighing in a 113 kg – and he’s coming off a break-out season with Frolunda in the SHL. He led the team in goals (21) and his 33 points made him the leading Swede on the team. He left Frolunda during the play-offs to join the national team for the closing stages of the Euro Tour and did enough there to earn a World Championship call.

Canucks prospect Linus Karlsson, 22, arrives off the back of a break-out season with Skelleftea. He had 46 points in 52 SHL games to grab the attention of the senior national team for the first time. Another 22-year-old, Nils Aman, a Colorado draft pick in 2018, completes the party.


Head coach Johan Garpenlov has two World Championship gold medals from his time as assistant to Rikard Gronborg. However, helping his country win those back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 has been something of a mixed blessing after he took over the top job in 2019/20. Having set the highest of standards, Sweden’s subsequent results were always susceptible to a dip – but the extent of the disappointment in Riga was an unexpected embarrassment for a country that expects to be a serious medal contender in every tournament it plays.

Garpenlov remains unafraid of making big calls, happy to select his players according to his planned systems rather than perceived reputations. That sparked a debate that swirled through the Beijing Olympics and will surely be reignited quickly if Sweden fails to impress here.

Projected results

Ordinarily, Sweden is a solid medal contender in World Championship play. This time, though, things are a bit harder to predict. There is proven quality on the roster, especially on defence, and that should make the Tre Kronor hard to beat. But there have to be some question marks over the offence. There’s depth enough to overcome Group B’s outsiders, but will it have enough to hurt the Finns and the Czechs?

Sunday’s game against Czechia could go a long way to answering those questions. In turn, that may give us a big clue as to how likely this Swedish team is to make it to the medal games – and perhaps write a famous new chapter in that great rivalry with Finland.