Team Sweden earned first place in Group B at the World Cup of Hockey thanks to their defeat of Team Russia in game one of the tournament. In doing that, they stayed away from Team Canada in the semi-finals, earned a greater chance of advancing to the final series and instead drew the newly-formed Team Europe in the lead-up match to the final three-game series.
Before the tournament started, many thought it would be Team USA facing off against the first place team in the second group and not Team Europe. However, the Europeans shocked the hockey world when they beat the USA in game one of their tournament slate. Now, Team Sweden must beat the feel-good team of the tournament to advance to the finals.
As good as Team Sweden has been throughout the tournament, we saw what happened with Team USA — you can’t underestimate Team Europe. Sweden will have to rely on their strong defensive play if it wants to punch its ticket to the finals against Canada.
So who is this Team Europe? It was built from eight different European countries including Norway, Germany and Slovakia. The goal for the creation of Team Europe was to even out the international hockey playing field. There’s no kidding ourselves — countries like Norway wouldn’t stand a chance in this tournament. Instead, Team Europe takes the best players from these countries and puts them all together to form a more competitive team.
So far, this element has worked well in the tournament. Both Team North America and Europe we’re able to use the unknown to their advantage — the USA was caught completely off-guard by Europe and North America was able to defeat both Sweden and Finland.
The main takeaway from the hybrid teams at the World Cup is to not take them lightly. If Sweden wants to advance with a chance at winning the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, they know they have to get through a tough, proven opponent in Team Europe.
Sweden’s Keys to Victory
Team Sweden has arguably been the second best team in the tournament next to Team Canada. They have the best defense group and a solid group of forwards to go with it, not to mention one of the best goaltenders in the world in Henrik Lundqvist manning the crease.
If Sweden wants to advance they’re going to have to continue the strong play that got them to this point. Unfortunately, Europe isn’t going to lie down and let Sweden walk all over them. Henrik Lundqvist has a big test in front of him. Although Sweden did beat Team Russia with Jacob Markstrom in net that doesn’t mean that they don’t need their goaltender to be on his game on Sunday. With the help of Erik Karlsson and the Swedish defensive group, their jobs will be to shut down the always dangerous Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and the rest of Europe’s assorted forwards.
On the offensive side of the ice, the Vancouver Canuck line of Loui Ericksson and the Sedin’s will have to continue their hot play to beat Jaroslav Halak and company. The Swedes haven’t blown anyone off the score sheet thus far, and that’s just fine because that’s not their style of play. They’ll have to use their strength and defensive play to wear down Team Europe. If they can do that along with the goaltending ability of Henrik Lundqvist, Team Sweden has a good chance of coming out of the game with a win.
This game is going to be a lot more competitive than people are predicting. However, I think Sweden will ultimately pull through and advance to the finals. Team Europe has exceeded all expectations set out by the World Cup and they were a pleasant surprise and a good story, but I’m going with the proven Swedes.
That sets the table for a classic Team Sweden vs. Team Canada final series. Hockey fans, buckle up. There’s going to be a great finish to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The Hockey Writers coverage of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 is being brought to you by PrimeSport, the official Fan Travel & Hospitality Package Partner of the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Nick Guido is a Montreal Canadiens Contributor for The Hockey Writers. You can Follow him on Twitter @nickguidoTHW for his articles, opinions and general Habs talk.