Before the start of the Junior WC 2022, it was widely believed that Team Sweden would finish first or second in Group B; it seemed unlikely that they would lose to Team Switzerland, Team Austria or Team Germany. But after a series of slow starts and a disappointing performance against the USA, many wondered if they might lose to the Germans. Those fears almost came true when the Germans opened the scoring on Monday, sneaking the puck past Swedish goaltender Calle Clang just four minutes into the game.
However, Sweden recalibrated and quickly put up three unanswered goals in the first period to give them a comfortable lead that carried them to victory. With the Swedes firing on all cylinders, the Germans were unable to generate any momentum, only managing to sneak in a late goal on a poor block by Swedish defenseman Emil Andrae in the dying seconds of the third. With the win, Sweden secures second place in Pool B. Although they would have preferred first place, they will have plenty of time to
Wallstedt sits while Clang is almost perfect
It is rare to see a goalkeeping battle in the World Juniors. Normally, a team has its starter playing unless he stumbles badly in the round-robin or succumbs to an injury. But the Swedes may have a tough decision to make as they prepare for Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
Jesper Wallstedt is undoubtedly the most skilled goalkeeper at the World Juniors 2022 and has been tasked with leading the Swedes to a medal and he has performed superbly. In two appearances, he posted a .922 save percentage, which is just behind Canada’s Dylan Garand and USA’s Kaidan Mbereko. But it also now ranks behind Clang, who stopped 20 of Germany’s 22 shots and now has a tournament-leading .944 save percentage, one shutout and 1.00 goals-against average.
Clang was tested several times against Germany and after the mistake on the first goal – where he missed getting his pad against the post, leaving an opening for Bennet Rossmy to push the puck past him – he was perfect. In the second period, the Germans almost took the lead after a misplay by the Swedish defenders who coughed up the puck right in front of the net. Their first shot sailed through the crease, pulling Clang out of position, but he managed to slide over the net and catch the rebound in his pads.
After his appearance, it is uncertain who the Swedes will turn to on Wednesday. Wallstedt entered the tournament as Sweden’s starting goalkeeper, but his confidence took a hit after the 3-2 loss to the USA. After stopping 38 of 41 shots, he told the media: “I’m disappointed in myself. I think I betrayed the whole team, and I let the whole country down. Goalkeepers often feel responsible after a tough loss, but his postgame comments seem to signal that he feels particularly responsible for leading the team to victory. Coaches and teammates were quick to defend his efforts, and it would be more accurate to say his team let him down, but Wallstedt seems to be feeling the pressure anyway.
Is that enough to turn to Clang? Although he is positioned as the team’s backup goalkeeper, he has more than enough talent to take on a starting role. Last season, he played 17 games for Rögle BK in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and posted a .915 save percentage along with a 10-5-5 record despite being one of the youngest goalies in the league. The Pittsburgh Penguins selected him with their third pick in 2020 before trade him in a package deal to the Anaheim Ducks for Rickard Rackell, but he has rapidly risen in value since then.
In the end, however, Sweden will probably stick with Wallstedt. Teams are incredibly hesitant to give up their starting goaltenders in high-pressure situations, even after a shaky performance. Clang’s start against the Germans was likely just a precaution, allowing Wallstedt to rest up and prepare for the playoffs on Wednesday. However, it is comforting to know that Sweden can turn to their backup if needed.
Without Edvinsson, Sweden’s defense was far quieter
It was surprising to learn that Simon Edvinsson was not dressed against the Germans after becoming arguably Sweden’s most important player. But, like Wallstedt, it appeared to be a precaution and not due to an injury. Without him in the lineup, however, it was no wonder the team’s defense looked and performed very differently. Against the Americans, the defense had almost half of Sweden’s shots, but against Germany they had less than a third. Edvinsson’s impact on the blue line has been huge, and he has the ice time to prove it by playing some of the most minutes per game in the tournament.
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But having the defense sit back and play more defensively might not be a bad thing. Against the USA, Sweden’s forwards were tasked with picking up the puck to pass back to the defense, who would then fire shots from the point, a similar strategy they used to beat the Austrians 6-0. But against the United States, it was much less effective. The American’s speed and aggression did not allow Sweden to set up anything, let alone their big scoring shots, and for most of the game they had to chase the puck which they were forced to cough up time and time again.
Against Germany, they tried a different strategy that allowed the team’s forwards to play a more offensive role, and it worked very well. Even a slow start didn’t hold them back as they bounced back from the first German goal to score three goals in eight minutes.
The only exception was Andrae, who remained active in the offensive zone, putting four shots on net and adding two more assists to take the scoring lead for Sweden with seven, but the change in strategy allowed Daniel Ljungman, Oskar Magnusson and Fabian Lysell to take on more prominent roles, and they enjoyed the added responsibility. Ljungman scored two goals on five shots, Lysell had an assist and added two shots, and Magnusson won the Player of the Year award after scoring his first of the tournament.
While it has been great to see Edvinsson and the defense play incredible hockey, it is probably more beneficial for Sweden to give their highly skilled forwards a bigger role. They have the speed and talent to go deep into the elimination rounds and come away with a medal, now all they need to do is execute.
Lekkerimaki is the real deal
While many of Sweden’s forwards performed better against Germany than they had all tournament, none was more important to the offense than Jonathan Lekkerimaki. I noted in my takeaways from the USA game that he looked good but needed more ice time to thrive. Well, either head coach Tomas Montén read my article or they simply paid attention because Lekkerimaki got two extra minutes against Germany. In that time, he put up two goals and put two shots on net.
The most noticeable aspect of Lekkerimaki’s game is his ability to quickly get down the ice and get to the puck first. Then, with it on his stick, he can protect it until a piece appears. There was no better example of this than on the fourth goal where he held the puck along the boards for several seconds while being pressured by the opposition before passing it to Theodor Niederbach, who dished it up to Ljungman for the goal. Although he only picked up the secondary assist, that goal wouldn’t have happened without him.
Many scouts talked about his incredible shot in the 2022 NHL Draft when the Vancouver Canucks selected him 15th overall. After all, his seven goals last season in the SHL were the second most of any player 20 or younger. But it is his playing abilities that have come to the fore in this tournament, and together with Magnusson, Ljungman and Niederbach, the group has become a lethal offensive combination, just what the Swedes needed this tournament.
Sweden hosts Latvia in the quarter-finals
With their win over Germany, Sweden gets the easier matchup against Latvia on Wednesday. However, after their upset of the Czech Republic, the Latvians cannot be underestimated. Continued pressure from their best offensive players, as well as the return of Edvinsson, should secure Team Sweden a win, but if they get off to another slow start, the Latvians could jump out to an early lead and force the Swedes to play catch-up. It is unlikely that Sweden will lose, but at the World Juniors anything is possible.
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Dayton is an elementary school teacher by day and an avid hockey fan. Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors and the NHL Entry Draft.