Sweden’s Victor Soderstrom (8), Lucas Raymond (18), Alexander Holtz (10) and Elmer Soderblom (25) celebrate a goal against Finland during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on January 2, 2021. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Sweden’s Victor Soderstrom (8), Lucas Raymond (18), Alexander Holtz (10) and Elmer Soderblom (25) celebrate a goal against Finland during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on January 2, 2021. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Sweden, USA ready for spotlight at World Juniors in Red Deer

Both teams start the tournament on Boxing Day

As the defending champion and winners of two of the last five IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, Team USA is aware of the pressure that comes with this tournament.

Winning last year, with the tournament held solely in Edmonton and without fans, was an entirely different beast than what they’ll face in 2022.

The U.S. is in a tough Group B in Red Deer, alongside Sweden, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Minus the scoring punch of Trevor Zegras, who has turned into a rookie sensation with the Anaheim Ducks and was the leading point-getter in the event last year, the U.S. will need to find a different way to the top of the podium this year.

They have a strong defence with Jake Sanderson and Luke Hughes and depth upfront, without the star talent they’ve brought in past years.

And they learned a quick lesson about how fast things change in their lone pre-competition game, as a major elbowing penalty from Red Savage put the Americans shorthanded for the final three minutes of regulation. Finland scored twice on the advantage to tie the game, before winning the game less than a minute into overtime.

“In these one-game shots, a little turn of momentum can be huge. Hopefully, we learn from it and it makes us the most disciplined team in the tournament,” said American coach Nate Leaman post-game Thursday.

The U.S. also didn’t capitalize on the power play and allowed three man-advantage tallies, something Leaman figures will come along as the event progresses.

“Obviously, the power play and penalty kill are something that we’ve worked on every day. They’re chemistry-based things. You really get better chemistry when you get into live-action in the games. That’s the biggest takeaway for us,” he said.

“I thought for the most part we made pretty good decisions. We probably did everything but finish. I liked our power play, I thought we drew some penalties there, I thought it was a good part of our game.”

Meanwhile, Sweden, which figures to be a favourite in Group B, had a near-perfect start in their only tune-up game. They routed Austria 7-0 and looked primed to make a deep run.

“We had a good couple of days here. A good camp and some good practices. I think it was good to get a game in and get some game situations in – some power play and PK, faceoff situations and that sort of stuff. That’s the tough part to practice,” said Swedish head coach Tomas Monten.

“I think we created a lot. I think we got better during the game. I liked our first line, I think they created a lot but they didn’t capitalize on their scoring chances. I like what I saw, they haven’t played together in a while.”

Sweden is led by two players who have already played NHL games this season, Alexander Holtz and William Eklund. The duo were both seventh overall selections in the 2020 and 2021 NHL Drafts respectively and had Oskar Olausson on their other flank in the pre-competition game.

“Alex, three world juniors, he played both in the NHL and the American League this year, tons of experience, great guy, always has a smile on his face, really makes a lot of contributions in the locker room as well,” Moten said.

“William (Eklund) didn’t get to play last year, and he gets to play centre now, I know he hasn’t played centre for two or three years… because of the openings at centre ice, we want to try him there and see if we can find some chemistry… Oluaffson could be a good fit. He’s a quick skater and has a good shot… hopefully he can get some open space playing with those two guys.”

Moten said his team should be ready on Boxing Day when they square off against Russia.

“I like my team. I like my group. We grew from day one. We’re not going to be the best team from the start, we’re not going to be the most skilled team. We have to work for everything on the ice. I think that’s what this group is going to do,” he said.

“We have some skill players that are going to lead us in those situations.”



byron.hackett@reddeeradvocate.com

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