Sweden’s under-20 national junior team travelled more than 6,626 kilometres and spent nearly 10 hours in an airplane, coupled with a two-hour bus ride from Montreal to Ottawa, within a span of less than 48 hours to play Carleton men’s varsity hockey team Nov. 3.
Why would this team, comprised of 18 NHL draft picks, go through so much trouble to play against a Canadian university squad?
The answer is simple.
Sweden is tired of coming second place at the World Junior Championships, and after feeling the pain of losing to Canada in the previous two tournaments, they’re willing to do whatever it takes this time around to bring home gold.
The Swedish club feels that playing these exhibition games in Canada, against not only the Ravens, but also the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes and the Concordia University Stingers, will help them better prepare for next month’s World Junior Championships in Saskatchewan, said Sweden's assistant coach Peter Sundstrom.
“We wanted to come overseas to play in the smaller rink and play more intense hockey so we can prepare more for the championships,” said Sundstrom, who played parts of six seasons in the NHL.
In Sweden, teams play on international-sized rinks, which are 10 feet longer and 13 feet wider than NHL-sized rinks.
Although the difference may seem trivial, paying close attention to these details could be the difference between winning and losing, between gold and silver.
“Playing here on the smaller ice, it’s more physical obviously,” added Sweden manager Rickard Gronborg. “We also wanted to prepare our guys for special teams. Over here, things happen a lot quicker.”
That, they most definitely do. Just ask Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, who left the game with a concussion after taking a hit to the head in the second period.
But according to team captain Marcus Johansson, the adjustment isn’t a hard one.
“It’s not that hard to adjust . . . it’s just a different game,” he said. “It’s more straight to the net, we have to keep the puck moving forward. I think that’s the biggest difference, but we’re getting used to it.”
This is no surprise given the skill on Sweden’s roster.
The team has seven first-round NHL draft picks to show for themselves, in addition to highly touted 1992-born defenceman Adam Larsson.
But the key to their success at next month’s World Junior Championships may be the tall man standing in between the pipes, Jacob Markstrom, who certainly stymied the Ravens on numerous occasions at the Ice House.
Markstrom said he believes Sweden’s chances to win gold are better than they've ever been.
“We’re getting closer and closer. We’ve had two silver medals and we’re not satisfied with that so I think this is the year for Sweden to take it home.”
Johansson echoed those sentiments.
“We’re going there to win,” he said. “We’ve got nothing else on our mind.”