The stage is set. The 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo are just approaching their apex. It’s very simple really — the team that wins is draped in gold elation, and the team that does not has to swallow second best.
For many players, this will be their only chance at a gold medal. While silver is certainly commendable and respectable, a worldwide culture seems to have long been one less forgiving of the team that does not take gold. No one thinks of the 1980 Soviet silver medalists, or even last year’s second place Canada at the World Juniors. We tend to save the utmost reverence for those that win it all.
Gustav Lindstrom, a defender for Team Sweden, is one of only 46 hockey players in the world that could win a U20 gold medal on the evening of January 5. At 19 years of age and in his first U20 competition, this will be his one and only opportunity to do so. While Lindstrom will be a great hockey player for years to come, there is no doubt that he will never forget what he will accomplish (or not) in Buffalo.
THW had a chance to speak with Lindstrom after Sweden’s semifinal victory over USA on January 4. The Swedes defeated the Americans 4-2, and Lindstrom was a plus-one in the game. We asked him afterwards about how the tournament has been, what his team needs to do to win gold, and about his future career.
Playing for His Uncle in Allsvenskan
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Lindstrom has played the last two seasons with Almtuna IS in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league. Allsvenkan is the second highest hockey league in all of Sweden. Between playing in Sweden and playing at this tournament’s games either in the KeyBank Center — the home of the Buffalo Sabres — or the HarborCenter across the street, Lindstrom has noticed a difference in how rink size impacts his game. He has also noticed the difference in level of play between the players assembled at this tournament as opposed to his normal competition.
Asked what his biggest challenge has been through the World Juniors, Lindstrom told us:
I’m not used to playing on smaller ice. Maybe that’s the biggest difference between here and home. There are a little bit more skilled players here. Like the USA has a lot of skilled players.
This season with Almtuna, Lindstrom has had a goal and three assists in 20 games. He has also logged 26 minutes in penalties and is a plus-six. It just so happens that nine-year NHL veteran Marcus Ragnarsson is both Lindstrom’s uncle and his coach. We asked if his uncle had any advice for him heading into the tournament.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Lindstrom shared, although he did not go into details. “He’s my coach back home in Sweden too, so it’s good for me.”
What It Will Take to Win the Gold Medal
We know now that Lindstrom and his Swedish teammates will be facing Canada for the gold. Through six tournament games thus far he has tallied an assist and is a plus-two. While he does not gain a lot of recognition because Sweden’s blueline is so jam-packed with talent, Lindstrom is still a coveted hockey player. The Detroit Red Wings drafted him 38th overall at the NHL Draft over the summer.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) June 24, 2017
Part of what makes Sweden a legitimate contender for gold is their depth. They have it all the way around, but particularly in terms of defensemen like Lindstrom. There has been no finer defense corps in Buffalo than Sweden’s. Their seven D-men will need to be at their very best against Canada in the final game.
“I think that it’s going to be the same game as today (the semifinal win against USA),” Lindstrom told THW. “It’s going to be a tough game. There are a lot of skilled players that are very physical. We have to play simple. Get the puck deep and work it.”
The Depth and Skill of the Swedes
Like it or not, Sweden may very well have the most talent and deepest roster at the tourney. Crafty sniper Alexander Nylander and the top defenseman at the tournament Rasmus Dahlin are tied for second place currently with six assists each. Lias Andersson has six goals in six games, and has an astounding shooting percentage of 46.15%. Elias Pettersson is right behind him with five goals of his own. Dahlin is also in second place for plus/minus as a plus-nine. Goaltender Filip Gustavsson has the second best save percentage of all goaltenders with a .924.
The collection of talent that Lindstrom is surrounded by has not gone unnoticed. He recognizes that the opportunity to win the gold medal stems from the blend of talent that has been comprised onto one roster – himself included.
THW asked Lindstrom what he liked best about his hockey club leading up to the gold medal game. He shared:
The mix of players I think. We have Elias Pettersson, Alex Nylander and Lias Andersson that make a difference on the ice. Then we have great defensemen too. So that’s great. It’s a good mix.
A “good mix” is an understatement for sure. Their mix might be the recipe for success.
Thoughts on Playing With the Red Wings
The game against Canada is obviously first and foremost in Lindstrom’s mind. Sweden has a job to do, and that is to return home as victors. But we did make sure to ask him about any potential opportunity to be playing hockey in Detroit over the next year or two.
After all, the Red Wings have a penchant for finding some of the very best players to ever come out of Sweden. While his teammate Dahlin is projected to be the next Nicklas Lidstrom for whichever team has the blessing of drafting him, Lindstrom could potentially be another Niklas Kronwall or a Jonathan Ericsson. And although he did not ever play for Detroit, maybe Lindstrom could even be another Marcus Ragnarsson.
Asked if we will see him in Detroit in another year or two, Lindstrom responded:
“I hope so. I will do my best!”
We are sure that you will do your best here in Buffalo too, Gustav. You already have. Go get that gold medal, kid!