The World Cup of Hockey starts on Saturday, Sept. 17. While pre-tournament games have begun, the xHockeyProducts team is excited for the tournament to begin. That’s why we are breaking down every team and providing the chances every roster has to win it all.
Sweden is considered a powerhouse in international ice hockey. Winners of gold in the 1994 and 2006 Winter Games, Team Sweden has medaled in six of the last 10 Winter Games and five of the past eight World Championships. In World Cup play, however, they have not surpassed the semifinal round.
|Group A||Group B|
|Team Canada||Team Finland|
|Team Czech Republic||Team North America|
|Team Europe||Team Russia|
|Team USA||Team Sweden|
|Mikael Backlund – CGY||Nicklas Backstrom – WSH||Mattias Ekholm – NSH||Jhonas Enroth – TOR|
|Patrik Berglund – STL||Loui Eriksson – VAN||Oliver Ekman-Larsson – ARZ||Henrik Lundqvist – NYR|
|Filip Forsberg – NSH||Patric Hornqvist – PIT||Victor Hedman – TBL||Jacob Markstrom – VAN|
|Carl Hagelin – PIT||Marcus Kruger – CHI||Niklas Hjalmarsson – CHI|
|Gabriel Landeskog – COL||Daniel Sedin – VAN||Erik Karlsson – OTT|
|Henrik Sedin – VAN||Jakob Silfverberg – ANA||Hampus Lindholm – ANA|
|Carl Soderberg – COL||Anton Stralman – TBL|
Arguably the best player in the world without a Stanley Cup ring, 34-year-old Henrik Lundqvist will be manning the pipes for the majority of Team Sweden’s contests. A five-time medalist in international play, Lundqvist will be looking to add to his trophy case with a stalwart defense in front of him. This includes NHL elite talent, such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson.
Along with a sound defensive unit, Team Sweden will roll out multiple offensive lines that will be dangerous at all times. Led by Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom and Nashville Predators phenom Filip Forsberg, the Swedish forwards instill speed and stick-work skills that will rival even Team Canada. The Sedin twins will still draw top defensive pairings, while supplemental players like Loui Eriksson and Jakob Silfverberg will cause fits for opponents.
It’s difficult to find a chink in Sweden’s armor. The only semi-glaring issue is the goaltending talent behind Lundqvist. While Jhonas Enroth and Jacob Markstrom are serviceable — and competent — NHL goaltenders, can they steal a win from the goaltender across the ice from them?
Sweden is one of the four lucky clubs to have back-to-back contests (Sept. 20-21). The first game is against Finland with the second against Team North America. Finland always brings their A-game against their cross-Torne River rival, while North America promises to be a quick group that will bury slow — or tired — opponents.
Which game does Lundqvist play? Does the coaching staff roll the dice and allow him to play both?
Another issue arises: it is well documented that Lundqvist is a slow starter in the NHL. With the World Cup taking place before the NHL season, the potential exists that the Swedish netminder will not be as sharp as he is expected to be. If this happens, Enroth or Markstrom will have to carry the load and be a saving grace for their country.
Player to Watch
Sweden has plenty of players who could fall on this list. However, this could be the coming-out party for defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
The Anaheim Ducks defenseman already has a silver medal in the World Junior Championships (2012) under his belt. In that same tournament, the 2012 sixth overall draft pick was voted one of Sweden’s most valuable players in the tournament.
He’s played over 75 games for the Ducks in each of the past three seasons, but his rise to stardom has gone almost unnoticed since he plays on the West Coast. The 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound defender has finished second on the Anaheim roster in average time on ice in each of the last two seasons, averaging about 22 minutes per game each campaign.
At the international stage with the entire hockey world watching, Lindholm could prove his worth at just the right time.
What It Will Take to Win
Sweden has all the tools to be able to compete with any team in the tournament. If Lundqvist can continue to be one of the best goalies in the world, there’s not many teams that can stop Sweden.
The Swedes are also built with familiarity in mind (more than being fellow countrymen). The Sedin twins, obviously, know each other from their time together, while Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist are teammates, and sometimes linemates, in Pittsburgh. Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Soderberg play in Colorado together, and Hedman and Anton Stralman make up Tampa Bay’s top defensive pairing.
This might be a hidden advantage for Team Sweden, helping push them over the hump against other teams in Group B.
Sunday, Sept. 18
Team Sweden vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Team Finland vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Team North America vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN
Feature photo courtesy Mel| Flickr
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