Less than three hours after landing in Washington D.C., Team Sweden descended upon the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington for their first practice in the “new world”. “This is kind of a tough practice for us” said coach Rikard Gronborg, “because we’ve been on a flight all day”. While their schedule may sound grueling, defenseman Mattias Ekholm (Predators) says it’s a good strategy so the team can adjust to the change in time zones. “We need to stay awake as long as possible tonight, then get a good night’s sleep and then you’re right into it. I feel it’s easier going this way than going home.”
After falling to Team Finland last Thursday, the Swedes bounced back against their Nordic twin on Saturday with a 6-3 win on home soil. Left winger Filip Forsberg (Predators), paired with Nicklas Backstrom (Capitals) and Patric Hornqvist (Penguins) on the second line, remained positive about the team’s prospects despite their initial slow start. “I mean, it’s early in the season,” he said, “everyone is a little rusty.” The Backstrom-Forsberg-Hornqvist line was very productive during the Swede’s second game, scoring eight of the 14 total points that day –another heart wrenching reminder to Caps fans of “what might have been” had Forsberg remained with the Capitals.
Discouraged but not disheartened by the initial slow start, Eckland said, “Obviously It’s not now that we should be judged on our game, it’s in a week or so when the tournament starts.”
With the off-season training schedules cut short by the World Cup, Forsberg understands the slow start. “Usually we [NHL players preparing for the regular season] reach the hardest point of working out in September”, said Forsberg. “Then you release until October. This year we had to change it up a little bit obviously trying to get right in there in the middle of September. I think things will start getting better and we still have a week to go until our first game.”
While the World Cup tournament games don’t start until next weekend, many of the games so far have been heavy and hard – a lot of scrums and hard hits – a trend that Eckholm expects will continue. “This is a tournament that everyone wants to win and that everyone is here to win, and with that comes physicality; it gives energy to the team.”
— NHLtoSeattle (@NHLtoSeattle) September 9, 2016
Forsberg agrees: “I think it’s going to get more physical for every game. I think the next game we play, I think Europe’s going to be more physical than the first two, and then it’s going to take it to an even a higher level, even after the tournament starts.”
With the last World Cup tournament 12 years ago, players are excited about the possibilities of what could happen in Toronto. The exhibition games are already revealing the competitive nature of the World Cup and the seriousness of play. “Everyone compares these games to the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s how I’m going to treat them,” said Eckholm. “It’s a fabulous tournament, all the best players in the same spot competing; definitely a long, long way away from an all-star game…I think the Europe and North America teams are going to make this the most competitive tournament ever,” added Forsberg.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 12, 2016
By Stephanie Judge