Martin Rose / Getty Images Europe
It’s been 10 years since Sweden pillaged and plundered the hockey world. In 2006 Team Sweden won the gold in both the Olympics and World Championships. Since then, things have quieted down a bit for the blue and gold. However, things are looking up for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, as Team Sweden has assembled one of its strongest rosters for international play in quite some time.
The Washington Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom returns for his first international tournament since he was banned from the 2014 Olympics just hours before the gold medal game against Canada. As you may recall, Backstrom tested positive for a banned substance commonly found in allergy medication. “Slick Nick” has stated publicly that he is looking forward to returning to the international stage, possibly with redemption in mind, but more likely, as a result of his life-long desire to pillage gold for Tre Kronor.
AT THE HELM
Team Sweden is experienced from top to bottom, starting with management. The team’s bench boss, Rikard Grönborg and his assistants, Peter Popovic and Johan Garpenlov, along with advisory board members Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidstrom, have logged a lot of NHL and international hockey miles. The Swedish coaches and advisory board members, which includes former Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson, have combined for 5,250 regular-season NHL games, and an additional 557 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With Alexander Steen recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Team Sweden announced that 23-year-old Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell will replace him on their World Cup roster. On September 1st, Team Sweden announced that Henrik Zetterberg would be replaced by the Calgary Flames’ Mikael Backlund. It was reported that Zetterberg injured himself while training. According to Yahoo sports, this marks the fourth Swede to miss the World Cup due to injury after being named to the roster – most recently, it was Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner out and Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jhonas Enroth in.
The Swede’s starting forwards possess plenty of offensive punch and two-way skill. Management appears to have intentionally assembled a team that includes existing experience in team-play, with the Sedin brothers (Vancouver) and Hagelin and Hornqvist (Pittsburgh). This added team familiarity could be what the Vikings need to make it to the top of the podium.
Interesting line Combos
All of Caps Nation may have a tough time with things when watching Team Sweden, as the top line will include “The F Word“ – Filip Forsberg. Still, what hockey purist isn’t looking forward to seeing what Backstrom and Forsberg can gin-up on a rush or powerplay, together?
The Swede’s second line could see an all Vancouver Canucks line with the Sedin brothers and newly-acquired top-liner Loui Eriksson. Additional line familiarity could be attained with the use of Pittsburgh Penguins Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist on a same line. Potential projected lines for Team Sweden:
Gabriel Landeskog-Nicklas Backstrom-FIlip Forsberg
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Carl Hagelin-Carl Soderberg-Patric Hornqvist
Mikael Backlund—Marcus Kruger—Jakob Silfverberg
Extra: Richard Rekell
Daniel Sedin—Henrik Sedin—Filip Forsberg
Gabriel Landeskog—Nicklas Backstrom—Loui Eriksson
Mikael Backlund—Carl Soderberg—Patric Hornqvist
Richard Rekell—Marcus Kruger— Jakob Silfverberg
Extra: Carl Hagelin
Team Sweden has assembled a blue line roster that is possibly the strongest and most talented in the tournament. The blue line core is stacked with youth, speed and physicality, from top to bottom. Erik Karlsson, (Ottawa Senators) is arguably the best offensive defenseman in the league, and will provide the Norsemen with a top-level transition game. Victor Hedman, possibly the Swedes strongest defenseman, will provide excellent speed, the ability to read the game and a nasty Viking crunch when necessary. Anton Stralman, (Tampa Bay Lightning) will be paired with teammate Victor Hedman (another roster tandem with gobs of existing experience playing together). Niklas Kronwal (Detroit Red Wings), Mattias Ekholm (Nashville Predators), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago Blackhawks) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes) round-out a stout Swedish D-core.
The team is pretty deep at all positions, with the possible exception of goaltending. King Lundqvist will get the nod to man the pipes, rounding out a strong defensive unit for the Swedes. However, Lundqvist will need to play through the entire tournament for the Swedes to have any chance at gold, as goalie depth is the weakest link for the blue and gold. Jhonas Enroth (Toronto Maple Leafs) replaces “injured” goaltender Robin Lehner on Team Sweden’s World Cup of Hockey roster, with Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks) rounding out a rather thin goalie reserve core.
If you’re looking for any team to beat Team Canada in this years World Cup of Hockey, Team Sweden may be your best bet. The Swedes have possibly the best defensive lineup, cultivated to stymie Team Canada’s ridiculous offensive talent. The Swedes management has rolled the dice and decided to go with a roster that has significant experience playing together. This could turn out to be a great move, or the Vikings death knell. Finally, King Lundqvist must stay healthy, and with a little puck luck, Team Sweden will once again return to rule the hockey world.
By Jon Sorensen
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