Swedes banishing bad memories
by Andy Potts|21 MAY 2022
Before and after: Tre Kronor enjoys a much better IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship campaign this year.
photo: Chris Tanouye, Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF IMages
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Sweden was stuttering towards an all-time World Championship low, failing to make it out of the group stage in Riga. Back-to-back losses against Denmark – for the first time ever – and  Belarus saw the Tre Kronor playing catch-up throughout the competition.

Results improved, but not enough: a shoot-out loss to the Russians in the final group game sent Sweden home early, leaving a proud hockey nation to contemplate its worst performance since 1937.

This time, though, the Swedes are on top of Group B and underlined their status as serious medal contenders with a shoot-out win over Finland in Tampere on Wednesday. A place in the quarter-finals is not yet mathematically certain, but it would take a freak combination of results to deny Sweden a place in the knock-out stage.

So what’s different? A year ago, Henrik Tommernes complained about a lack of intensity in Sweden’s play in the opening games of the tournament. Rickard Rakell felt that the Swedes “tightened up” and struggled to put any joy into their game. In addition, Sweden had 20 World Championship rookies in Riga and with preparations disrupted by Covid there were times when the team clearly lacked chemistry.

In 2022, there is greater World Championship experience throughout the team and the gameplan is paying off. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a “back-to-basics” approach that starts on defence and emphasises teamwork.

Tommernes is one of just four returnees from 2021. Asked about the changes over the past 12 months, the defenceman said: “I think it’s especially the defence we’ve had. We sit together as a team on the forecheck, on the backcheck and especially in our own zone.

“It feels safe out there. We make it easy for each other and that’s what’s been striking in these past few weeks.”

Tommernes’ reference to the “past few weeks” is eye-catching. Team Sweden has been together for some time, with the roster building during the final two phases of the Euro Hockey Tour. That event, often overlooked, had its ups and downs for Sweden. A record loss to the Czechs, going down 3-9 in Ostrava last month, ramped up the pressure on the team. However, there was encouragement from two wins over Finland as the Tre Kronor settled into a system that is reaping rewards in Tampere.

“We found a game that we believe in, and I think we’ve built on that so far,” added Tommernes.

That belief is also apparent in the way Sweden coped with playing three-line hockey at the start of the tournament. In the international game, it’s rare for any coach to name just nine forwards for a game – but that’s precisely what Garpenloev did for the opener against Austria. Short-benched, Sweden was not at its most fluent, but secured a 3-1 win against an outsider that has proved an awkward opponent for many thus far. From day one, there was a sense of a team buying in – something that wasn’t always visible in Riga.

Defender Jonathan Pudas, another player returning from 2021, reckons that Sweden’s solid start is the key change.

“Last time we got a tough start but then we were good in the rest of the five games,” he said prior to the meeting with Finland. “The big difference this year was that we wanted to be ready from the very first games. I think these first games were really good for us.”

The last time Sweden began a World Championship with four successive victories was in 2018. That year, the Tre Kronor won all 10 games and lifted the trophy. After seeing old rival Finland win Olympic gold for the first time, halting a World Championship party on Finnish ice would be extra special for the revitalized Swedes.