Team Sweden opened up the 2020 World Junior Championships with a victory over Team Finland to stretch their preliminary-round winning streak to an eye-popping 49 games. It was definitely up in the air for most of the game thanks to a brilliant effort by Finnish goaltender Justus Annunen. But 17-year-old draft hopeful Alexander Holtz made sure the streak continued by scoring a power play goal with only five seconds left on the clock in the overtime. Talk about a clutch performance from one of the youngest players on the squad.
Grade “A” Goaltending From Annunen & Alnefelt
If you were a teacher grading the work of both Sweden’s Hugo Alnefelt and Finland’s Annunen, you wouldn’t hesitate to give them an A-plus. From the start of the game, both goaltenders looked phenomenal. As the game went on Annunen took more of the spotlight ending the game with 45 saves, many of them of the highlight variety.
Alnefelt definitely wasn’t the busiest goaltender on the ice, but he was the most clutch. With Sweden trailing 2-1, he made a spectacular scorpion save from practically on his stomach, which kept his team within striking distance. Shortly thereafter, Samuel Fagemo went down the ice and scored the equalizing goal. If he wasn’t able to make that save, this game does not end in a Swedish victory.
Despite the miscue on the winning goal, Annunen was also amazing in goal for the Finns. As the game progressed he started to remind me of Tuukka Rask and his 53 save shutout performance against these same Swedes in the 2006 World Junior Championship. He just had that same ere about him, confident and nearly flawless. He didn’t get a shutout and still allowed three goals, but there were times when he was channeling his inner Rask.
Call It the Hoglander
It hasn’t even been a year since he was drafted into the National Hockey League, and Vancouver Canucks second-round pick Nils Hoglander has already scored two seemingly impossible lacrosse goals. Well, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised any more as it’s already been done four times in the past few months. After scoring a similar goal with his club team Rogle BK in the Swedish Hockey League, he must have thought, why not try it on a bigger stage? That’s exactly what he did and ended up scoring on the same play yet again.
After Andrei Svechnikov did it in the NHL twice, Hoglander probably wanted to at least match his output. Now let the debate begin, should we call it the Hoglander or the Svechnikov?
Hoglander didn’t just score the jaw-dropping goal and walk away, he was dangerous throughout, finishing the game with two points and five shots. He was also named player of the game for Team Sweden in the post-game ceremonies.
Youth Is Served With Holtz
Clutch, thy name is Holtz. When 17-year-olds Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz were named to the team, it was unclear how much impact they would have. Turns out it could be more than you think. Raymond had his moments, but it was Holtz that ended up being the most noticeable of the two.
He had two breakaway attempts that were stymied by Annunen and then the winning goal five seconds before the end of overtime. If Sweden can get contributions from their youth as well as their veterans, they will be well on their way to ending the gold medal drought that has now hit eight years.
The Power Play and Undisciplined Penalties
If Sweden hopes to win games in the medal rounds, they have to score on the power play and stay out of the penalty box. With all the talent they have on the backend, they should be able to score more goals with the man advantage. Granted, they did run into a hot goaltender who stopped nearly everything, but it’s never a good sign to finish a game with only one goal on six opportunities. The game-winner was on the power play, so I guess they did end up scoring when it mattered the most. Nevertheless, going forward, it has to be better, especially when the games become a matter of life and death.
The other half of this coin is penalties and undisciplined play. If not for goaltending and superb penalty killing, Sweden could have found themselves down two or three goals early on. With the game not even five minutes old, the Swedes had already taken two penalties, putting them down two men. The five-on-three was almost a minute and a half long, and luckily they did not give up a goal. But against Canada, the United States or Russia, those penalties will be much more difficult to kill.
What’s Next for Sweden?
After extending their preliminary-round winning streak to 49 games, the Swedes have to be happy with the direction their team is heading. The defense looked solid and quick in transition, the top line of David Gustafsson, Hoglander and Fagemo thrived with four points and 18 shots, and the 17-year-olds didn’t look out of place. Oh, yes, and the goaltending provided by Alnefelt was sublime. Overall, there is a lot to like about Sweden so far.
As for their next opponent, Team Sweden will get the day off before meeting up with Team Switzerland for a match on Saturday. Can they extend their winning streak to an even 50 games?