Sweden enters the 2023 World Junior Championship as one of the favorites to win a medal and challenge for gold. However, their path to the title runs through the defending champions, Canada, who won it all this past August. Furthermore, these two teams meet in a highly anticipated New Year’s Eve matchup.
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That game may be the highlight of the schedule; however, to build momentum to that clash, Sweden took on Austria in the tournament’s opening match. After Sweden collected 21 shots to their opponent’s three in the first period, the contest could turn into one of those trap games.
TSN announcers Gord Miller and Mike Johnson mentioned that a goalie from a lower-ranked European team stands on their head every year, which results in a stunning upset. In this game, where Sweden took most of the period to find their scoring, Austria held Sweden to just two goals, and Thomas Pfarrmaier stood on his head, earning a save of the tournament consideration in just the first period.
However, Pfarrmaier’s heroics were short-lived, as Sweden exploded for six goals in the second period and then tacked on three goals in the third for a dominating 11-0 win over Austria. Nevertheless, Sweden has little time to prepare for their next game on Tuesday against Germany. Here are three takeaways from this game to keep an eye on moving forward.
Sweden Scores by Committee
Tre Kronor has a plethora of NHL-drafted players in the lineup, including current American Hockey League stars like Fabian Lysell (Providence Bruins), Isak Rosén (Rochester Americans), and Jonathan Lekkerimaki, drafted 15th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 2022. Before the puck dropped, all eyes were on these players because Lysell and Rosén were returning to the tournament, and Lekkerimaki had a chance to grow his stock.
Rosén took charge of the game early, factoring in the first three goals; however, his play inspired the rest of the team, with eight additional players contributing goals. He had two, along with Filip Bystedt, the only two players with a pair. Ludvig Jansson and Fabian Wagner had three points to lead the Swede offense with Rosén and Bystedt, in addition to 16 other players who got points.
As the game wrapped up, Johnson talked about the importance of putting the pre-tournament games behind them and using a matchup against Austria to get the offense going. Sweden checked both boxes by not putting pressure on their stars to carry the offense but spreading it and allowing everyone to chip in and build confidence. Anything is possible in a short tournament format, so attacking opponents as a team will always have better results than one or two players carrying the load.
Sweden’s Special Teams Should Be Focal Point
When anyone looks back at the Sweden and Austria game sheet, they will see the 11-0 box score and estimate that the Swedes dominated on the power play. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and it could be one of the holes in their game. They went 2-for-8 (25 percent) in the pre-tournament games, which will only scare a few opponents, given the amount of talent in the lineup.
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Before a late third-period power-play goal from Bystedt, the Swedes were pointless on the man advantage despite a handful of chances through the first 40 minutes. It is no secret that scoring a power-play goal can make or break a tournament; a team of Sweden’s caliber should not be walking away from a blowout win with just one power-play tally. Their next opponent, Germany, may be more disciplined, and when they face off against Canada in a few days, they may only get one chance to take advantage of the power play.
Special teams were a non-factor in this win because the game’s only shorthanded goal by Milton Oscarson resulted from miscommunication and a costly turnover. Although Sweden dominated every aspect of this contest, they didn’t execute with key opportunities, which could be a problem as they look to advance in the medal round.
Sweden Must Stay Hungry in the Next Game
Sweden fired 21 shots on goal in the first period but tallied their first goal at 13:17. Sure, they had a 2-0 lead against the lowest-ranked team of the tournament after 20 minutes, but goalie Carl Lindbom only faced three shots. He finished the contest with a 13-save shutout and didn’t feel pressured since his defensemen shut down any high-end scoring opportunities.
Goalies need to stay engaged in the game to stay sharp, and today Lindbom had a chance to get his feet wet at the 2023 tournament. However, the upcoming games for Sweden will be challenging, and the intensity will pick up, affecting everything they do. The saves will be more demanding, the crisp passes will be interrupted, and missed opportunities will linger.
Sweden dominated a weaker opponent, which is positive and negative. Although there was no hint of players developing bad habits, since everyone was engaged in the offense, this team has to stay hungry night after night to keep up the intensity they had in the second and third periods.
There’s a good chance the Swedes never record 51 shots on goal again this tournament, so to reach the podium with a medal, they need to capitalize on their limited opportunities.