Team Sweden kicked off its 2022 World Junior Championship with an emphatic 6-3 victory over Russia, silencing any doubters over its legitimacy as a top contender in Group B while showcasing its core strengths – solid goaltending and hockey IQ that’s off the charts.
One game is hardly a reliable benchmark, but considering the alternative, the Swedes couldn’t have impressed much more on Sunday. The win was the first step in Sweden’s bid to return to the medal podium for the first time since taking bronze at the 2020 tournament, or even capture gold, which hasn’t happened since the 2012 championship.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the Swedes’ 6-3 win over Russia on Sunday.
Sweden’s Special Teams are Something Special
Team Sweden notched four special teams goals — three on the power play and one while shorthanded — en route to its tournament-opening win, while only allowing Russia to notch one goal with the man advantage. The Swedes distributed the puck well throughout their power plays, and received goals from New Jersey Devils top prospect Alexander Holtz, Colorado Avalanche prospect Oskar Olausson, and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Emil Andrae.
The sparkling special teams play didn’t stop there. Detroit Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson chipped in a shorthanded goal in the second period, which gave Sweden a 2-0 lead at the time, all while officially announcing the team’s arrival to the tourney. The 18-year-old defenseman squeaked the puck through Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov, who was drafted 11th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2020.
Sweden took full advantage of Russia’s mental mistakes, and it was the difference in the game, especially considering it was outshot by Russia 30-24. Still, the Swedes capitalized on their opportunities while playing a disciplined game, and though the Russians mounted a brief third-period rally, the outcome of the game never really felt in doubt.
Jesper Wallstedt is as Good as Advertised
Wallstedt is the kind of goalie that can make a team feel pretty darn good about itself if it scores six goals in a game, and Sunday’s win was no exception. The 19-year-old Minnesota Wild prospect stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced, and made several key saves to protect Sweden’s lead, especially midway through the third period when Russia appeared to be mounting a comeback.
His performance between the pipes was one thing, but the goalie’s swagger was on full display late in the third period after Russia pulled its goalie for an extra attacker. Wallstedt took a shot, which ultimately missed and resulted in icing with just over a minute left, though Sweden was no worse for the wear after the ensuing face off.
Forward Daniel Ljungman ultimately scored an empty-netter to secure the win.
Wallstedt’s performance certainly comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the phenom’s career as of late, especially considering he’s posted a 1.82 goals-against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%) in 17 games this season with Luleå HF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). His presence provides a noticeable boost to a team that did not have a goalie in the top five of last year’s championship.
Sweden’s Well-Balanced Attack Stifled Russia
Edvinsson’s three-point night on Sunday stood out, but he was far from alone on the scoresheet. Sweden used a remarkably balanced scoring attack en route to its six-goal night, and five players logged two points in addition to Edvinsson’s three.
The Russians rallied after falling down 4-1 early in the third period, thanks to back-to-back goals from 17-year-old Matvei Michkov, but Sweden responded to the adversity with resounding confidence after Theodor Niederbach, another Red Wings prospect, restored its two-goal lead.
“We were pretty sharp and had a good mindset,” Edvinsson said after the game. “The game had its ups and downs, but we were strong on defence and in front of their net as well. I think we did a good job.”
In all, eight players on Team Sweden notched at least one point, and all six goals were scored by a different player. That type of versatility, combined with Wallstedt’s ability in net, will likely make the Swedes a difficult matchup every single night.
Sweden Faces Slovakia Monday Night
There’s no rest for the weary, and Team Sweden faces Slovakia, who dropped a 3-2 decision to Team USA on Sunday night, in the second of back-to-back games at 9:30 ET on Monday. The Swedes then have an off-day on Tuesday before regrouping to play the defending champion Americans on Wednesday night.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.