Before the start of the 2022 World Junior Championship, it was widely believed that Team Sweden would finish first or second in Group B; it seemed unlikely they would lose to Team Switzerland, Team Austria, or Team Germany. But after a series of slow starts and a disappointing performance against the United States, many wondered if they might lose to the Germans. Those fears nearly became a reality as the Germans opened the scoring on Monday, sneaking the puck by Swedish goaltender Calle Clang just four minutes into the game.
However, Sweden recalibrated and quickly put away three unanswered goals in the first period to give them a comfortable lead that carried them to victory. With the Swedes firing on all cylinders, the Germans were unable to generate any momentum, only managing to sneak in a late goal off a bad block by Swedish defender Emil Andrae in the dying seconds of the third. With the win, Sweden secures second place in Pool B. While they would have preferred a first-place finish, they’ll have plenty of time to
Wallstedt Sits While Clang is Nearly Perfect
It’s rare to see a goaltending battle at the World Juniors. Normally, a team has their starter who plays unless he stumbles badly in the round-robin or succumbs to an injury. But the Swedes may have a tough decision to make as they prepare for Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Jesper Wallstedt is arguably the most skilled goalie at the 2022 World Juniors and has been tasked with leading the Swedes to a medal and he has performed admirably. Over two appearances, he posted a .922 save percentage, which ranks just behind Canada’s Dylan Garand and USA’s Kaidan Mbereko. However, that now also ranks behind Clang, who stopped 20 of Germany’s 22 shots and now sports a tournament-leading .944 save percentage, a shutout, and a 1.00 goals-against average.
Clang was tested several times against Germany and after the misstep on the first goal – where he missed getting his pad against the post, leaving an opening for Bennet Rossmy to push the puck past him – he was perfect. In the second period, the Germans almost brought the game to within one after a misplay from the Swedish defenders who coughed up the puck right in front of the net. Their first shot sailed through the crease, which pulled Clang out of position, but he managed to slide across the net and catch the rebound in his pads.
After his performance, it’s uncertain who the Swedes will turn to on Wednesday. Wallstedt entered the tournament as Sweden’s starting goaltender, but his confidence took a hit after the 3-2 loss to the United States. After stopping 38 of 41 shots, he told the media, “I’m disappointed in myself. I think I betrayed the whole team, and I disappointed the whole country.” Goalies often feel responsible after a tough loss, but his post-game comments seem to signal that he feels especially responsible for leading the team to victory. Coaches and teammates were quick to defend his efforts, and it would be more accurate to say that his team let him down, but in any case, Wallstedt seems to be feeling the pressure.
Is that enough to turn to Clang? Although he is slotted as the team’s backup goalie, he has more than enough talent to take on a starting role. Last season, he played 17 games for Rögle BK in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and posted a .915 save percentage along with a 10-5-5 record despite being one of the youngest goalies in the league. The Pittsburgh Penguins selected him with their third-round pick in 2020 before trading him in a package deal to the Anaheim Ducks for Rickard Rackell, but he’s quickly risen in value since.
In the end, though, Sweden will likely stick with Wallstedt. Teams are incredibly hesitant to give up on their starting goalies in high-pressure situations, even after a shaky performance. Clang’s start against the Germans was likely just a precaution, allowing Wallstedt to rest up and prepare for the playoffs on Wednesday. It’s comforting to know, however, that Sweden can turn to their backup if needed.
Without Edvinsson, Sweden’s Defence Was Far Quieter
It was surprising to learn that Simon Edvinsson was not dressed against the Germans after he had arguably become Sweden’s most important player. But, like Wallstedt, it seemed to be precautionary and not because of an injury. Without him in the lineup, however, it was not surprising that the team’s defence looked and performed very differently. Against the Americans, the defence had nearly half of Sweden’s shots, but against Germany, they had less than a third. Edvinsson’s impact on the blue line has been huge, and he has the ice time to prove it, playing some of most minutes per game in the tournament.
But having the defence sit back and play more defensively may not be a bad thing. Against the USA, Sweden’s forwards were tasked with picking up the puck to send back to the defence, who then would fire shots from the point, a similar strategy that they used to beat the Austrians 6-0. However, against the USA, it was far less effective. The American’s speed and aggression didn’t allow Sweden to set up anything, let alone their big point shots, and for most of the game, they were left chasing the puck that they were forced to cough up time and time again.
Against Germany, they tried a different strategy which allowed the team’s forwards to play a more offensive role, and it worked very well. Even a sluggish start didn’t hold them back, as they were able to bounce back from the first German goal to score three goals in eight minutes.
The one exception was Andrae, who remained active in the offensive zone, putting four shots on net and adding another two assists to claim the scoring lead for Sweden with seven, but the switch in strategy allowed Daniel Ljungman, Oskar Magnusson, and Fabian Lysell to take on more prominent roles, and they thrived with the added responsibility. Ljungman scored twice on five shots, Lysell put up an assist and added two shots, and Magnusson won Player of the Game honours after scoring his first of the tournament.
While it’s been great to watch Edvinsson and the defence play some incredible hockey, it’s probably more beneficial for Sweden to give their highly skilled forwards a bigger role. They have the speed and talent to go deep into the elimination rounds and come away with a medal, now all they need is execution.
Lekkerimaki is the Real Deal
While many of Sweden’s forwards performed better against Germany than they had all tournament, no one was more important to the offence than Jonathan Lekkerimaki. I noted in my takeaways from the USA game that he looked good but needed more ice time to thrive. Well, either head coach Tomas Montén read my article or they were simply paying attention because Lekkerimaki was given an extra two minutes against Germany. In that time, he set up two goals and put two shots on net.
The most noticeable aspect of Lekkerimaki’s game is his ability to get down the ice quickly and get to the puck first. Then, with it on his stick, he can protect it until a play reveals itself. There was no better example of this than on the fourth goal where he held the puck along the boards for several seconds while being pressured by the opposition before he sent it to Theodor Niederbach, who dished it to Ljungman for the goal. While he only picked up the secondary assist, that goal would not have happened without him.
Many scouts talked about his incredible shot at the 2022 NHL Draft when the Vancouver Canucks selected him 15th overall. His seven goals last season in the SHL were the second-most of any player 20 years or younger, after all. But it’s his playmaking abilities that have come to light in this tournament, and paired with Magnusson, Ljungman, and Niederbach, the group has become a deadly offensive combination, exactly what the Swedes needed this tournament.
Sweden to Take on Latvia in the Quarterfinal
With their win over Germany, Sweden gets the easier matchup against Latvia on Wednesday. However, after their upset of Czechia, the Latvians can’t be underestimated. Continued pressure from their best offensive players, as well as the return of Edvinsson, should secure Team Sweden a win, but if they get off to another slow start, the Latvians might jump out to an early lead and force the Swedes to play catchup. It’s unlikely that Sweden loses, but at the World Juniors, anything is possible.
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|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
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An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.