by Lisa McRitchie on 01/06/12 at 05:00 AM ET
After 31 years of waiting, it has finally happened; Sweden has won gold at the IIHF World Juniors Tournament and is the fourth country in as many years to win top honours. In some way, the 1981 Swedish gold medal winning team was with this 2012 team, but only in the locker room. The team had brought with them photos of the players from the gold medal winning team to use as inspiration. Apparently, it worked.
It was a game without a single goal through three periods and ten minutes of overtime before Ottawa Senators’ 2011 first round draft pick Mika Zibanejad ensured his team maintain their perfect record at this tournament.
The scoreless game was of course not for lack of effort. The Swedes peppered Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov with 58 shots, while the Russians only managed 17. Turning away 57 shots only gave further evidence that Russia came prepared with two fine, capable and even phenomenal goalies.
It came as a bit of surprise that Marakov would start for Russia, it was Andrei Vasilevski who had been Russia’s go to man but head coach Valeri Bragin decided to give the start to Marakov after sending him in for relief of Vasilevski in Russia’s game against Canada Tuesday night.
“Vasilevski’s previous games were fantastic, and with five minutes left in the last game, Makarov had a good performance,” speaking through a translator, Bragin explained, clearly expecting that goaltending would be the topic of choice following a 1-0 game.
“At the end of pregame skates, the coaches saw Vasilevski seemed to have spent all his effort and potential. So we just made a decision to Makarov.”
For Marakov, “It was maybe my best game, 59 shots, it was good for me.”
Most goaltenders would have won if they had turned aside 58 of 59 goals, but on the other end of the rink Johan Gustafsson faced a completely different, but just as difficult game. This is why both goaltenders earned best player honours for their teams.
Gustafsson faced only 17 shots and therefore required an extreme amount of focus to stay with the game and forget about his lonely end of the rink. “You have to be focussed in your head,” said Gustafsson. “It was a tough game for me mentally. It was probably the toughest game I’ve ever played in my head. I’ve played this game 6, 7, 800 times before in my head and we won every time. It was a good feeling to win this tonight.”
None of the players on this Swedish team had even been thought of and head Coach Roger Ronnberg was only 10 during the 1981 Swedish World Junior win but the players of the 1981 team were with this year’s team. Photos of the 1981 gold medal winning team decorated the walls of the Swedes dressing room.
Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Oscar Klefbom between saying unbelievable to describe the game talked about the now familiar faces joining the team in the locker room. “Ugly faces.” This of course generated nothing but laughter from the dozen people hanging on his every word. “Old men” he added, showing his sense of humour. These photos were inspirational, and so was meeting Peter Forsberg before the team left for the tournament.
Raw post game with Oscar Klefbom
This was not the first time that Forsberg’s name had been mentioned at this tournament; Forsberg’s ten points in a single game against Japan at the 1993 World Juniors still stands as the record. But it was Russian captain and Washington Capitals’ prospect Yevgeni Kuznetsov who nearly matched it, earning 9 points in a game against Latvia during the preliminary round.
Forsberg likely smiled hearing how close someone came to his record, but surely shouted for joy at roughly 4am in Sweden when Mika Zibanejad scored the game winning goal.
As the coaches made their final addresses in press conference format, Russian coach Valeri Bragin was able to see some positives in Sweden’s win; “It’s been 30 years, so that’s a big win for the team and also good for Scandinavian teams in general.” Bragin was appreciative of the effort his team put out,“It was a very hard game, there were a lot of emotions spent in our victory over the Czechs and Canada and the team was a bit tired. Then the game went into overtime and that took emotions and effort.”
For Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg, the support from Canadian fans was a pleasant surprise. After the Swedes beat Canada in a pre-tournament game, Sweden was not a fan favourite. However, it was the Russians who put Canada out of contention for gold. And so, the Swedes were the easier to love it seems.
The support from the fans in the stands was “Tremendous. We could never have dreamt of this when we were going overseas that the Canadians over here would cheer for us in the final. It’s an amazing feeling.”
All that’s left for both the Russians and the Swedes is to celebrate. Waiting for team Sweden in Stockholm is a celebration worthy for a gold medal winning team. According to Ronnberg, the World Juniors rank second in importance only behind the Olympics to Sweden. These young men will be in some ways immortalised.
Next year’s World Juniors will take place in Ufa Russia, where the home team will undoubtedly seek redemption.
Post game with Johan Gustafsson, Jonas Brodin and Johan Larsson
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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