World Championship Preview: Sweden
Team Sweden looks to youth, new talent
Sweden comes to a World Championship at the end of a generation change; while the gap to front-runners Canada, USA, and Finland might have closed, the pack behind Sweden has closed in too. To ask a young team for anything else but a playoff spot would be a huge task.
Swedish coach Leif Boork thinks this team is the best team he has had available so far during his coaching tenure, and the best team in recent years to represent Sweden at the World Championships.
Focus in Sweden has been on the new defensive talent Maja Nyhlén-Persson, who, at just 16 years old, will be synonymous with the future of Swedish women's hockey. Boork's original thought had been "to bring Nyhlén-Persson to the camp for development," but as the season progressed it was obvious that she was "too good to leave at home," Boork told The Ice Garden in a phone interview. Mr. Boork said he went directly to the Nyhlén-Persson family to discuss the World Championship and its consequences in regards to her schooling and future development. Both the family and Boork agreed it was in her best interest to go.
Nyhlén-Persson is a defender who is difficult to get around, even in regards to her young age. It could be due to her relative Nicklas Lidström. She rarely puts herself in a difficult position on the ice because of her understanding of the game; her vision and first pass to exit the zone will also bring up memories from the Michigan fans of a certain Mr. Lidström. The fact that she shoots right is an added plus.
Another future star to keep an eye on is 18-year-old Sara Hjalmarsson. She is a big forward with a wicked shot and is projected to have a great future. According to Boork, "with all eyes on Nyhlén-Persson, Sara Hjalmarsson might be the player to surprise many in the stands."
Luleå HF captain and defender Emma Eliasson is still outside the team due to an infected stand-off between Eliasson and Boork. There are different takes on the root of the problem but I, personally, still think that Eliasson would have benefited the team in the end.
Jenni Asserholt, a forward from HV71 and the former Team Sweden captain, is also missing from the roster. She, like Eliasson, also has issues with Boork; in Asserholt's case those issues have led her to all but retire from the national team, but her play towards the end of the season would have brought something extra to this team.
The aim of the team is first and foremost to play well. "In a short tournament you can’t focus too much on results at the beginning. You have to play well and then the results will come," said Boork. "All games will be of huge importance and I don’t want to pile an added pressure on medals and results in order to have it all blow up after the first game."
Sweden is coming out of a generation change, and it is all going according to plan. When Sweden managed a surprising silver at the 2006 Olympics, it caused a lift in attention to the game, but the responsibilities were maybe not sorted out correctly. The generation change wasn’t phased in at the right time; while Mr. Boork doesn’t want to point fingers, it's obvious he thinks the attention and increased media interest could have been handled better on many levels.
It became obvious that something had to change when Sweden had to face an uncertain relegation battle with Switzerland in 2012. Boork was brought in as coach and while it hasn’t been as easy transition it will hopefully start to bear fruit.