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  1. #1
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    Team Sweden: Adapting and succeeding

    Team Sweden: Adapting and succeeding
    By Anders Harrisson Ångerman AKA Drew Pelto AKA *censored*

    Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Swedes have won more medals in international professional hockey competition than any other country. They have a strong economy, good education system, and they’re easy for us to communicate with because they top the ratings for English proficiency as a second language. The Swedish Number Project (or as I call it, Ask A Swede) was a great idea and Volvo makes a pretty good automobile. I think it’s safe to say that the so-called “Swedish Model” has worked in many, and perhaps nearly every aspect.

    I once had a Finn tell me that many people in their country speak passable, if not fluent English because it is ridiculous to expect the rest of the world to learn their language, and that view is shared by Sweden. Likewise, Sweden has clearly adapted quite well in the hockey world while not completely abandoning their style of play.

    Forty years ago, there weren’t many Swedes in the NHL. The stereotype of the “Chicken Swede” was largely correct: they didn’t play a physical game and could be neutralized and even dominated with hard hitting. The few who came to the NHL didn’t last long, and it wasn’t until the great Sámi-Swedish defenseman Borje Salming—once viewed as too violent to play for the Swedes, but too soft for the NHL—broke the mold, coming to North America and both adapting to the physical game, but also bringing an aspect of elegance that hadn’t been seen on the continent. Bobby Hull realized quickly that this was a game-changer. He told the New York Times in 1998 about the early Swedes “I assured them that it would be us changing our style, not them… I was always appreciative of the skill that Anders [Hedberg] and Ulf [Nilsson] had. I predicted what would happen.” The Swedes changed the North American game, but also adapted to its differences. Over time the former “Chicken Swede” would turn into players known for toughness and durability—Ulf Samuelsson, Tomas Holmstrom, Peter Forsberg, Elias Abrahamsson, and the Oduya brothers certainly weren’t afraid to go into the corners.

    Chicken Swede? Not so much...

    The first European-trained NHL captain to take his team to a Stanley Cup Final? Swedish. First to win the Cup? Swedish. First two European-trained Stanley Cup winning players? Swedish. First two European-trained Conn Smythe Trophy winners? Swedish.

    And with this well-rounded game and pedigree of recent success, Sweden should be expected to be a powerhouse in the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.

    Starting from the back, The King is still reigning, as Henrik Lundqvist will get the nod in goal. Lundqvist is consistently one of the top goalies in the world, and holds an Olympic record having had a stretch of over 172 consecutive minutes played without allowing a goal. In addition to a 2006 Olympic Gold, he also won the 2002 World Inline Hockey Championships with Sweden. His backups will be Jacob Markström and Jhonas Enroth.

    McKayla Maroney, or Henrik Lundqvist? Either way, only gold will do.

    The defense is young, but not inexperienced in the way the Finns are. Anton Strålman and Niklas Hjalmarsson lead the way as the only two 1980s-born blueliners. Erik Karlsson is certainly expected to be a top performer: of the five tournaments where he has represented Sweden, he has been named the Best Defenseman in three of them and has won a pair of Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best. Expect more of the same from him at the World Cup.

    22-year old Hampus Lindholm is the baby of the bunch, but this could be the perfect opportunity for him to step out of the shadows as Sweden’s next big thing; he has only played for the Tre Kronor once before, winning a Silver at the 2012 U18 World Juniors. Rounding out a solid group of blueliners are former #2 draft pick Victor Hedman, Mattias Ekholm, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

    The Swedish forwards were dealt a blow the week before the tournament as captain Henrik Zetterberg announced he would be unable to play due to injury, replaced by Mikael Backlund. Although losing Zetterberg’s experience is big, Backlund is no slouch. He put up 8 points in 10 games to help Sweden to a World Championships Bronze in 2014 and had his first 40-point NHL season this past year for Calgary. And of course any possible loss in leadership will be more than covered by the likes of Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and the duo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
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    If there ever is a perfect time for a player to shine at the 2016 World Cup, it is for Nicklas Bäckström. You may recall that he missed the 2014 Olympic Gold Medal Game following a positive drug test for a cold medicine, a game which Sweden later lost. While Bäckström was cleared of a doping violation and allowed to keep his Silver, this is a perfect opportunity to atone for his mistake and change the color of that medal.

    Nicklas Backstrom will be looking to clear his name in 2016

    Expect Filip Forsberg to be among the tournament leaders in scoring. With back-to-back 60-point seasons in the NHL, plus a point-per-game average in international play, this 22-year old should be among the world’s elite for a long time. Of the remaining seven forwards—Loui Eriksson, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hörnqvist, Marcus Krüger, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Carl Söderberg-- five played for Sweden at either the 2014 Olympics or the 2013 World Juniors. And the lone one who didn’t appear on those teams—Hörnqvist—just won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh and worked his way from being the Mr. Irrelevant pick in 2005 to being a 50-point scorer in each of the past three seasons.

    Outside of Lundqvist, the Swedish roster lacks star power, but it has so many solid players that they don’t need it. As much as I’d like to see the Finns and Americans battling for a championship, I see a Canada vs. Sweden final coming in a few weeks.

    About the author: Drew Pelto typically tries to hide the fact he’s part Swedish due to his family having inhabited Finland for about 500 years. Despite this, he enjoys several Swedish punk bands, has Umeå’s coat of arms on his goalie helmet, and buys too much stuff at Ikea. He lives in Texas with a wife who would leave him for Peter Forsberg.

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  2. #2

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    May 2014
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    Nice text, well written, I learned a lot.

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