They had stared at the photograph in their dressing room for most of the tournament. It was a picture taken 31 years ago, one full of Swedish heroes. Hakan Nordin. Patrik Sundstrom. Jan Erixon. All-star goalie Lars Eriksson. All members of the only team to have won a gold medal for Sweden at the world junior hockey championships.
And now there are two.
Sweden’s newest hockey heroes were born Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. They didn’t just win the gold medal; they defeated the defending champions from Russia 1-0 in overtime to win a gold medal for the ages. It was, the record books showed, the first time the two countries had met in a world junior gold medal game.
The game-winning goal came courtesy of Mika Zibanejad, who stole the puck off the boards and Russian forward Nikita Gusev. In a flash, Zibanejad cut to the net, made his move and slipped the puck past Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov at 10:09 of overtime.
Promising a better celebration than teammate Max Friberg, who had ridden his stick after a four-goal outing earlier in the tournament, Zibanejad tossed his gloves and embraced his on-rushing teammates. Better than his happy bedlam was his prediction.
Before the game and again before overtime, Zibanejad told his teammates he was going to score and end their waiting.
“You have to decide if you want to win this,” said Zibanejad. “And when I said it in the morning it was a joke. But obviously it’s not a joke any more.”
“We were determined we were going to win this tournament and we did,” said winger Max Friberg, who had mentioned the photograph of the 1981 Swedish team days before. “It’s big for hockey in Sweden that we win. It’s been 31 years now so I hope everybody cheered for us in Sweden.”
The game was closer than it should have been thanks, in part, to how Russian head coach Valeri Bragin juggled his goaltenders. First, he pulled starter Andrei Vasilevski at a critical moment in Tuesday’s semi-final against Team Canada. So steady for 40 minutes, Vasilevski surrendered four goals in the third period and was scrubbed in favour of Makarov, who had been sitting on the bench for three games.
Makarov got the starting assignment against Sweden. Thanks to his often spectacular work, the Russians were able to reach overtime despite being badly outshot.
“It was a very hard game,” Bragin said. “A lot of emotions were spent of the Czech and Canada [games prior to the gold medal finale]”
Makarov told reporters after facing 58 shots he wasn’t that tired and had already shrugged off the loss.
“I feel all right. I’m probably playing tomorrow night,” he said of his netminding duties with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
Born to an Iranian father and a Finnish mother, Zibanejad had spent nine games in the NHL this season with the Ottawa Senators before returning to Sweden to polish his game. The overtime winner was his fourth goal of the tournament. He added to his celebration by staying on the ice after medal presentation and carrying a sign that read, “He shoots, he scores.”
“[Zibanejad]came in on the breakaway and I knew he was going to score,” said teammate Jeremy Boyce Rotevall. “He told me this morning he was going to finish this game off.”
Swedish goalie Johan Gustafsson faced just nine shots on net through 26 minutes of playing time. With 32 seconds left in the third period, he made the stop of his night, robbing Gusev off a spin-a-rama pass from the always dangerous Evgeni Kuznetsov.
“I hope they make a stamp of this,” said forward Rickard Rakell, referring to how the Swedish government memorialized Peter Forsberg’s gold medal-winning goal from the 1994 Winter Olympics.
The Swedes had two players named to the tournament all-star team – defenceman Oscar Klefbom and Friberg. Brandon Gormley was the lone Canadian selected and was also named the tournament’s best defenceman.
Kuznetsov, a Washington Capitals’ draft pick, was voted the tournament MVP with Petr Mrazek from the Czech Republic the top goaltender.