Currently seeded third in the IIHF World Rankings, the Swedes have made significant progress in the last five years. Starting with a bronze medal at the 2002 Olympics, this team has gotten better and better. They finished fourth at the 2004 IIHF World Women’s Championship and third in 2005. That prepared this fired-up squad for the Olympics in 2006, where they amazingly ousted the Americans in the semi-finals and captured the silver medal after falling to Canada. The Swedes, who have just under 3,000 registered female players, would love to repeat that proud victory in Winnipeg. But it won’t be easy.
Coaching: Head Coach Peter Elander will guide the Swedes again this year. He’s occupied his post without interruption since 2004, and he’s well-known for inspiring his team by showing them Miracle, the recent Disney movie about the 1980 USA men’s Olympic team that upset the Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal under the guidance of Herb Brooks. Elander, whose training methods are rigorous, has pointed to the hard physical training it took for a bunch of young underdogs like the Americans to go all the way. It’s quite ironic that what his players learned helped them to knock off the USA in Turin. Elander, with the assistance of Assistant Coach Peter Bolin and Team Managers Claes-Göran Wallin and Lars Karlsson, plans to lead Tre Kronor back to the medal podium at the 2007 tournament. Will all their hard work and planning pay off?
Goal: Some would argue that Stockholm’s Kim Martin is the best female goalie in the world. At age 15, she was thrust into the spotlight when she backstopped Sweden to third place at the 2002 Olympics. Back home, she played with the AIK IF women’s team, but this season she transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and earned a stellar .941 save percentage and 1.58 GAA in 21 games, also helping her team make it to the NCAA finals. Martin gave her team a fighting chance in the 2006 Olympic gold-medal final, making 22 saves in a 4-1 loss to Canada. There will be some tough match-ups during the 2007 World Women’s Championship, and Martin will have to bring her best game to the rink. Sara Grahn, a promising 18-year-old, will back up the veteran.
Defence: Gunilla Andersson, Jenni Asserholt, and Ylva Lindberg are the trio to watch on the ice this year. These women were Sweden’s top defencemen at the 2006 Olympics. Andersson played five games, scoring three goals and three assists. The 31-year-old from Segeltorps IF currently holds an all-time record for the most World Women’s Championships played (11), along with the most games played in international competition, with 54 appearances between 19. Boasting plenty of experience, Team Sweden’s defence should be an asset in this tournament.
Forward: If Sweden is going to put pressure on Canada and the USA, the forwards will need to elevate their game as they did in Turin. Although Maria Rooth, Erika Holst, and Pernilla Winberg didn’t put up the same kind of numbers as the top Canadian attackers in Turin, their statistics were very comparable to those of forwards on Team USA. Maria Rooth led the pack there with five goals and four assists in five games, and scored two goals plus the shootout clincher in the 3-2 semi-final upset versus the Americans. Holst brings veteran leadership and a certain physical presence at 5-10 and 176 pounds, and Winberg, 18, has gotten better at every IIHF tournament she’s played in since debuting in 2004.
Projected Results: This team has legitimate reason for optimism heading into the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship. Sweden, along with Finland, is consistently in the second tier at the Olympics and Championships. A close battle for third place will likely take place between the Scandinavian rivals. But can the team stand up to the motivated Americans again, or even keep it close against the ever-dominating Team Canada? That’s a longshot, considering that the Swedes lost 7-0 to both Canada and the USA at the 2006 Four Nations Cup. Sweden faces Russia in the first game of the tournament on April 3.