Last, but not least
Last year, Sweden was the host country at last year's Four Nations Cup. Unfortunately, it wasn't a strong showing for them, as they finished last of the four teams, losing all four games. However, with the exception of the opening game against the United States (a 6-2 loss), many of the games were close.
Currently, the Swedes rank fifth in the world after beating the Czech Republic 4-2 in the classification round of the World Championships this past spring. Lisa Johansson was the top scorer of the tournament for her country, with four points in five games played (2G, 2A). Meanwhile, in net, Sara Grahn held her team up with a .920 save percentage, good for fourth-best goaltender in the tournament.
Team Sweden is adding a few players to their 2016 World Championship roster. Eighteen year-old Sara Hjalmarsson will be debuting for the Swedish team. She will be joined by forward Erika Grahm. Grahm has had a great season in the Swedish DamHockey League (SDHL), averaging a point a game with seven goals and six assists. The two will be players to watch.
The big changes for Team Sweden, however, are the two names notably missing from the roster. Forward Jenni Asserholt and defenseman Emma Eliasson will not be representing Team Sweden in the tournament. The departures were not by choice, and Coach Leif Boork faces a large amount of criticism in leaving the two of them off the team.
Fan favorites Asserholt and Eliasson were staples on Team Sweden. Both were members of Sweden’s bronze medal team in the 2006 Turin Olympics; they have been on Team Sweden for years. During Asserholt’s 13 years on the national team, she was captain for five.
While Boork argues that it is a hockey decision, and that the two players are getting older, a glance at the roster proves otherwise. There are four rostered players for Four Nations that are 27 or older as well. Additionally, their production has not faltered. In the SDHL this season, the two have shown they still have the offense to match the famous Swedish defense. Defenseman Eliasson has a total of nine points (4G, 5A) in 13 games with Luleå HF this season. Forward Asserholt has 12 points (5G, 7A) in 14 games with HV71.
Perhaps the real reason that the two of them are off the roster is for off-ice disagreements. During the offseason for the national team, several of the players handed the Swedish hockey union a signed letter calling for Boork’s resignation due to discontent with his coaching and management style. Instead, Boork left Eliasson and Asserholt off the team. Asserholt quit Team Sweden in response.
Fans have shown their distaste for the coach as well. During a friendly against Finland in September, Luleå fans protested with banners stating "Emma to the National Team" and "Resign Boork." Eliasson takes the fan support as more motivation to perform well this season and make Boork regret his decision.
Despite his verbal shunning of the two players, Boork says that he believes "the door for the two players is closed, but not locked." For Asserholt and Eliasson, however, it seems that if Boork is behind the door, they will walk away themselves.
What to expect
Sweden is not a high-scoring team by any means — most of their games have been decided by one goal, and they rarely score more than three in one match. Defense and goaltending have long been their strong suit, judging by the past few tournaments, and it's kept the games close.
Grahn is a rock in net, and the Swedes overall have the physicality to go up against the North American teams; however, that can backfire if they take too many liberties, and the strength and skill of teams like the U.S. and Canada can be overwhelming. Sweden has consistently flip-flopped with Finland between third and fourth in the Four Nations Cup, and with the key players missing from Sweden's roster, it may well be a second straight year at the bottom of the pack.