Sweden too strong for new boys
by Andy Potts|14 MAY 2022
Max Friberg, Joel Kellman and Rasmus Asplund celebrate Sweden's second goal in Saturday's victory over Austria.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
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Sweden opened with victory in Tampere – something it failed to do in its previous two World Championship campaigns. Johan Garpenloev iced just three lines against Austria as the Swedes wait on possible further recruits from the NHL, but had enough to secure a 3-1 verdict.

For the Austrians, meanwhile, this was an encouraging performance after their sudden elevation to the top division. Despite allowing an early goal there were chances to get back on level terms, but Marcus Hogberg was only beaten once in the Swedish net. As recently as February, Roger Bader was preparing his team for Division IA action, but Belarus not participating brought Austria back to the top table for the first time since relegation in 2019.

Sweden's captain, Oliver Ekman Larsson, cautioned against under-rating Austria. "They’re a good team. They work hard, they can skate and they’ve got some good players. We knew it was going to be a tough game.

"But overall, I like that we got a win. We did some good stuff, I thought, and there’s some stuff we need to clean up. There were some nerves going into the first game too."

His Austrian counterpart, Thomas Raffl, also took positives from the game. "We were supposed to be at a different tournament (Division 1A) but our preparation didn’t change a whole lot," he said. "We played better teams in pre-tournament games and I thought we did good there, and we’ve carried it into this tournament and had a pretty good start here. 

"There’s always parts you can improve, playing against teams that are a higher level than you’re used to all season, but I believe we’re going to get better as the tournament goes on."

When Sweden opened the scoring in the third minute, it was easy to fear for Austria. Joel Kellman found the way past Bernhard Starkbaum with only the second shot of the game, capitalizing on Carl Klingberg’s good work behind the net, and gave the Tre Kronor a perfect start.

"We got a long play in the O-zone," said Kellman. "It was a strong play by Klingberg behind the net and he found me in an open place in the slot, and I just tried to get the puck to the net.

"It’s always fun to score and to get the first goal of the game is always important so we could build off that." 

For a time, it was the kind of one-way traffic many expected before the puck was dropped. Klingberg was denied by the crossbar on seven minutes as his shot looked for the top shelf but clipped the goalie’s pad on the way.

However, the Austrians are determined to make the most of their chance at this level and started to show what they were made of. Sweden caused its own problems, firing a loose pass into centre ice and inviting the turnover; if Ali Wukovits had gathered the puck cleanly in front of the net, he could have seriously tested Hogberg. 

And Hogberg had to be alert again to deny Benjamin Nissner when the lively Salzburg winger found a gap in the Swedish defence and pinged in a shot that was padded away. Nissner, 24, spent a season playing in the Allsvenskan before returning to his homeland in 2020.
Sweden vs Austria - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Sweden opened with victory in Tampere. Johan Garpenloev iced just three lines against Austria as the Swedes wait on possible further recruits from the NHL, but had enough to secure a 3-1 verdict.
SWE AUT 14 MAY 2022
Austria’s efforts gave Sweden cause for concern, but the Tre Kronor still enjoyed the bulk of the play. In the 17th minute, that produced a second goal when Kellman, who spent a good part of the last three seasons within the Sharks organization, turned provider for Max Friberg to find the top corner from close range. 

Game over? Not for Austria. Lukas Haudum’s much-deflected point shot had Hogberg reacting late to make a glove save before a bullet of a shot from Peter Schneider halved the deficit 30 seconds before the intermission. The Austrians launched a swift break-out and Dominique Heinrich’s feed picked out Schneider in the right-hand channel for an impressive finish. The 31-year-old Salzburg man was also on target for Austria in its previous World Championship campaigns in 2018 and 2019.

"It’s always big when you score a goal against an opponent like this," Schneider said. "You kind of feel, ‘OK, we can find a way back into the game'."

The middle frame saw Austria close to tying the game. Nissner continued to catch the eye and only a desperate slash from Henrik Tommernes prevented him from testing Hogberg after he got into a dangerous position. That brought Bader’s team its first power play of the game and Haudum smacked a shot squarely onto the bar. The 24-year-old from Linz has extensive experience in Swedish hockey after playing juniors with Sodertalje and gaining SHL game-time in Malmo. Now back in his homeland with Klagenfurt he continued to make the most of his insider knowledge of today’s opposition, firing in another shot that almost crept through Hogberg’s defences.

"I thought our work ethic was really good," added Raffl. "Especially in the second period, I think we out-chanced them over 20 minutes and if we keep playing like that throughout the whole tournament, then I think there will be some games where we’ll be the luckier team at the end." 

Sweden struggled to show its best hockey in this game. However, midway through the second period the Tre Kronor managed to restore that two-goal lead. Mathias Brome was the architect, surging down the left-hand channel and shooting for the five-hole. Starkbaum made the initial save, but his luck gave out when he inadvertently kicked the puck back onto the crease and Joakim Nordstrom followed up to stuff it home.

Nordstrom, who was also part of Sweden's Olympic campaign, had mixed feelings about playing iwth just nine forwards in this game.

"When you’re playing with a short bench, you get more reps early so it’s easier to get into a rhythm," he said. "But maybe for the full tournament it’s going to be tough to play with nine forwards, so we’ll see what happens down the road."

In the third period, Sweden was able to manage the game, limiting Austria to just five shots on goal. Three of them came on one shift late in the game, culminating in a blast from Brian Lebler that boomed into Hogberg’s pads. 

At the other end, perhaps mindful of tomorrow’s more testing engagement against Czechia, the Swedish offence was quiet. Not even a late power play could bring a further goal as the Tre Kronor started with a routine victory.
Sweden vs Austria - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship