VICTORIA — In Tomas Monten’s mind, winning hockey championships involves more than picking the best players and scoring more goals than other teams.
The Sweden coach, still feeling the sting of last year’s heartbreaking loss to Canada in the world junior championship final, feels the thin margin between victory and defeat often comes down to skills that do not officially show up on the scoresheet — like team grit.
Sweden sent what was considered a dream team to last year’s tournament in Buffalo. Loaded with first-round NHL draft picks including Vancouver Canucks rookie sensation Elias Pettersson and first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres, the Swedes suffered a last-minute loss to Canada in the final.
Monten said last year’s team was a phenomenal collection of players, but he’s pushing this year’s squad to add a dose of one necessary hockey ingredient in the quest for gold.
“We just need to have the grit,” he said. “We are a team with depth. We just need to work. We need to make sure we work for everything we want to have.”
The Swedes have captain Erik Brannstrom, a Vegas Golden Knights first-round pick, on defence, and centre Isac Lundestrom, an Anaheim Ducks pick, as team anchors and leaders in the determination department, Monten said.
Sweden improved to 2-1-0-0 on Saturday night with a 5-4 overtime win over the United States after the Americans rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the third period.
It was the 47th win in a row for the Swedes in round robin play. Yet despite their impressive streak, the Swedes have captured just one gold (2012) since 1982.
“Just work every shift,” Monten said of what he wants from his team. “If you get two shifts, you work your (butt) off. If you get 22, you work the same amount. You skate. You block shots. You make the small stuff and hopefully win the big game.”
He said it’s his goal is to imprint team grit as part of Sweden’s hockey DNA. Monten said the grit factor has become such a valued quality, the Swedes study what it is all about.
“We talk about it,” he said. “We talk a lot about our behaviour. How we want to look. How we want to behave every shift on the ice, every time we practise, every time we go to the rink. We’ve got feedback on it. We’ve got to encourage each other.”
It also involves rewarding gutty efforts, but pointing out when players need to step it up, Monten said.
He said the pain of losing to Canada last year is the reminder of what it takes to win.
“I want to win,” Monten said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. As long as we go all the way and win the last game.”