3 Takeaways From Sweden’s 3-1 Win vs. Czechia

Historically, Sweden and Czechia are two of the worst teams when playing for the bronze medal. Sweden has a record of 2-7, which included a three-year stretch where they came in fourth every time. Czechia hasn’t fared much better, going 1-5, with their last medal coming in that one win back in 2005.

Although they may not end the tournament the way they wanted, Sweden picked up a bronze against Czechia on Saturday afternoon. Despite finishing at the top of their pool, the Swedes struggled to generate offence and play consistently throughout the tournament. The Czechs, on the other hand, finished fourth, securing just one win in the preliminary round, but they won when it counted, upsetting the USA to advance to the semifinals. Czechia brought everything they could muster against the Swedes, but in the end, the better team won, with Sweden claiming a medal for the first time since 2018.

Sweden Finally Shows Some Offensive Flair

Heading into the bronze medal match, one of the biggest issues that has followed Sweden all tournament long was their inability to put up goals when needed. Before the start of the game, defenceman Emil Andrae led the team with four goals and eight points. It’s been a pleasant surprise to watch Sweden’s captain and the Philadelphia Flyers’ second-round pick in 2020 emerge as a top offensive threat, but it’s not who many expected to be a top scorer. Fabian Lysell and Oskar Olausson, both first-round picks and two of Sweden’s best offensive players, sat at five points each, while Isak Rosen, the Buffalo Sabres’ 2021 first-round pick, sat second with three goals, also not a surprise as he led the U18s last year in scoring.

Beyond them, Sweden was not getting consistent offensive support from the rest of their roster, as only two other players scored more than one goal: Daniel Torgersson scored twice in Sweden’s first game this year against Switzerland, and Daniel Ljungman put two away against the Germans four days later. Players that one would assume would be leading the offence, such as Theodor Niederbach, Simon Edvinsson, Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Liam Ohgren, or Helge Grans, had scored a combined two goals.

Part of the problem was the team’s inability to get pucks on net. Unsurprisingly, Andrae led Sweden with 22 shots, but compared to other nations up for a medal, that total was pitifully low. Czechia’s Jiri Kulich had 29 shots, followed by Jan Mysak’s 24 shots, while Canada’s Kent Johnson has a staggering 35 shots in six games. Finland’s shot leader was at least close to Andrae, with Roni Hirvonen firing the puck 23 times on goal, but the team has five players with 15 or more shots. Sweden had just two. Making things worse was Sweden’s shooting percentage, which sat at just 9.44%; only Czechia ranked lower among the four remaining teams, but they were still tied with Sweden’s goal total.

Oskar Olausson, Barrie Colts
Sweden’s Oskar Olausson had 18 shots, but just one goal. He scored 26 goals last season with the Barrie Colts and Oshawa Generals (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

But with a medal on the line, Sweden started to show more of what was expected of them. Lysell picked up the game’s first goal with a beautiful wraparound after picking up the puck after it was chipped out of Sweden’s end by Czechia. Selected 21st overall in 2020 by the Boston Bruins, he emerged as a dangerous offensive player with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, putting up 22 goals and 62 points in his first season with the team. But at his first World Juniors, he was somewhat underwhelming, chipping in just one goal in six games and going two games without a shot on goal. Still, he was one of the only Swedes continuously pushing the offence closer toward the net and trying to generate chances.

It was not the first time Lysell attempted the wraparound off an odd-man rush, but it was the first he converted on the attempt, and it was made possible by Sweden’s change of pace to start the game. Rather than start slowly and pick up steam throughout the game, they started more aggressive than they’ve started any other game, using speed and short passes to drive the play deep into Czechia’s zone. It was a complete contrast to the long shots they used in other games and the results of the change spoke for themselves.

Sjodin Provides the Spark Sweden Needed

Aside from Lysell, Rosen, and Andrae, the Swede’s top players were inconsistent. Niederbach, a first-line regular, scored just once in the tournament and managed just 12 shots, most of which came in the 6-0 win over Austria. Alternate captain Ake Stakkestad also scored just one goal while contributing less than 10 shots during the tournament. Thankfully, they got support from the depths of their lineup. Early in the tournament, it was third-liner Oskar Magnusson who was driving the play and making things happen, with linemate Daniel Ljungman contributing two goals against the Germans.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Canada’s 5-2 Win vs. Czechia

Against Czechia, it was Linus Sjodin, who gave Sweden the go-ahead goal to put them up 3-1 and subsequently won the Player of the Game honours. A seventh-round pick by the Sabres in 2022, he’s been hailed for his speed and puckhandling, but on Sweden’s World Junior team, he was regularly placed on the fourth line. That placement didn’t give him many opportunities to contribute – he had just four shots in seven games – but when Sweden was under pressure from the Czechs, he was the one who finally put the puck past Tomas Suchanek.

Penalty Trouble Threatened Sweden’s Lead

Sweden has proven that they are a strong defensive team, owning the top penalty kill unit of the tournament. Over 18 attempts, they allowed just two goals, good for nearly 90% effectiveness. However, they also led the tournament in time spent down a player at over 18 minutes and averaged three penalties a game. A lot of that came from Sweden’s carelessness when trying to knock their opponents off the puck. Many of the calls against them were interference and roughing, many of which were unnecessary and forced the Swedes to play catchup for two minutes or more.

Theodor Niederbach Team Sweden
Theodor Niederbach’s game misconduct against Switzerland showed a complete lack of discipline (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

It was the same story against Czechia. A bad tripping penalty from Edvinsson allowed Michal Gut to score the Czech’s first goal, and then Andrae took two subsequent penalties – a delay of game and a slashing – that gave Czechia two more great chances. While their defensive efforts helped keep them alive until the very end, it also revealed an area that Sweden needs to work on if they want to compete for another medal at the 2023 tournament.

The biggest reason for their badly timed penalties was their inability to generate speed. The team’s two worst performances were arguably against the USA and Latvia, even though the latter resulted in a win for Sweden. In both of those games, the opposition used their speed and physicality to get them off the puck and create turnovers, which then forced Sweden to chase the play. When they finally recovered the puck, they were gassed and were thus unable to set up any pressure in the offensive zone, which resulted in another change of possession and another chase down the ice. Yet, despite the speed disadvantage, they were surprisingly hesitant to throw a hit, which is a tried-and-true method to slow down a fast, aggressive team.

Sweden’s Gold Medal Drought Continues

The Swedes will look a bit different in Halifax for the 2023 tournament, as long-time coach Tomas Monten will be stepping down after eight years with the U20 program. He finishes his time with two silver medals and a bronze. On top of his departure, it will be the first time Sweden will be without Wallstedt since 2019. Edvinsson is eligible to return next year, but it has yet to be seen if he’ll make the Detroit Red Wings out of camp, as he looked solid throughout the tournament.

Still, Sweden has nine other players eligible to return to the 2023 World Juniors, including Rosen and Lysell, as well as Lekkerimaki, Ohgren, Ludvig Jansson, Viktor Stjernborg, Carl Lindblom, Albert Sjoberg, and Anton Olsson. That group promises to bring a new face to Sweden, one of high offence and speed, and a renewed energy to finally break the 20-year gold medal drought.

Team CanadaPlayers to WatchRoster
Team USAPlayers to WatchRoster
Team AustriaPlayers to WatchRoster
Team CzechiaPlayers to WatchRoster
Team FinlandPlayers to WatchRoster
Team GermanyPlayers to WatchRoster
Team LatviaRoster
Team SlovakiaRoster
Team SwedenPlayers to WatchRoster
Team SwitzerlandPlayers to WatchRoster

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