Revisiting Sweden’s World Junior Championship History
Sweden is among the best hockey countries in the world, thanks to a long history of star players, world championships, and Olympic gold medals. According to dates obtained from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), Sweden joined the Federation on March 23, 1912. However, further research shows various dates associated with the membership. The Swedish Football Association (founded in 1904) organized ice hockey in the country, before the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (Swedish: Svenska Ishockeyförbundt) came into existence on Nov. 17, 1922.
Sweden became one of the dominant teams in Europe and expanded its talents on the international stage. The Swedish Men’s National Team, known as Tre Kronor (Three Crowns), won the European Championship in 1921, 1923, and 1932, claiming the silver medal in 1922 and 1924. The country won a silver medal at the 1928 Winter Olympics; however, they didn’t succeed in the newly established World Championship tournament in 1931, finishing in sixth place at their first appearance.
In 1953, Sweden won their first international gold medal at the World Championship, creating a legacy of winning that players carry on to this day.
Sweden’s Medal History at the World Junior Championship
The IIHF created the World Junior Championship tournament in 1974, although the games were not official until 1977. Furthermore, the Soviet Union team, whose senior teams dominated the hockey world at the time, won the three unofficial tournaments in 1974, 1975, and 1976 with Sweden finishing fourth in 1974 and then claiming bronze in 1975.
When the official tournament launched in 1977, the Soviet Union boys continued winning, claiming the first four gold medals from 1977 through 1980. Interestingly, Sweden became the first country besides the Soviet Union to win a gold medal (1981) at the tournament, ending the Soviet Union’s dominance.
The 1981 champions went 4-0-1, scoring 25 goals and giving up only 11 for the second-best goal differential in the tournament. The team finished atop the “Blue Group” standings with a 3-0-0 record thanks to wins over West Germany, 7-3, United States, 10-2, and a thriller over arch-rival Finland, 2-1. During the championship round, they tied Czechoslovakia 3-3 before defeating the Soviet Union, 3-2, to win the tournament on Jan. 2, 1981.
Håkan Nodrin tallied nine points thanks to two goals and eight assists to be his team’s top scorer. His teammate Patrik Sundström scored seven goals to finish as the second Swedish player to rank among the tournament’s top-10 scorers. In the post-tournament awards, Sundström won the IIHF Directorate Forward Award, while Lars Eriksson earned the goalie award. Furthermore, Sweden had four players on the Media All-Star Team, led by Eriksson and Sundström, with Nordin and Jan Erixon.
However, Sweden’s reign at the top of junior hockey was short-lived since Canada and the Soviet Union traded gold medal wins into the late 1980s. The next medal Sweden won was a bronze in 1987 and a silver in 1989. Then, with an influx of young talents like Peter Forsberg, Markus Näslund, Mikael Renberg, and Michael Nylander, the country earned a medal in five tournaments (four silver and one bronze) from 1992 to 1996.
Another long drought commenced in 1997 and lasted 10 tournaments, ending with back-to-back silver medals in 2008 and 2009 and a bronze in 2010. After a fourth-place finish in 2011, Sweden captured their second gold medal thanks to a golden goal from Mika Zibanejad. On Jan. 5, 2012, in a jam-packed Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, the Swedes and Russians battled to a 0-0 tie through regulation before Zibanejad potted the game-winner, providing his home country their first gold medal in 31 years.
It was a special tournament for Sweden, who finished atop Group A with a 2-2-0 record and 10 points. Despite two regulation and two overtime wins, they edged out Russia for the division lead by securing a 4-3 overtime win over their rivals on New Year’s Eve. This win gave the team a pass to the semi-final, setting up another instant classic against Finland, which ended 3-2 in a shootout. Goals by Sebastian Collberg and Max Friberg propelled Sweden back to the gold medal game, an all-time classic against Russia.
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Although Zibanejad scored one of the biggest goals of his career, Friberg was the scoring star of the team, finishing tied for second in tournament scoring (11 points) behind Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s 12 points. Interestingly, Friberg had nine goals, two helpers, and 22 penalty minutes, the most among the tournament’s top-10 scorers. Thanks to a strong showing, Friberg earned post-tournament All-Star team honors along with defenceman Oscar Klefbom.
The reigning champs defended their win to the final whistle in 2013, falling to the United States in the gold medal game. In the following tournament, 2014, Sweden fell again in the last game, this time to Finland. Since then, the boys have won only three medals, silver in 2018 and bronze in 2020 and 2022.
Despite their best efforts in 2018, the silver medalists made headline news, for all the wrong reasons — during the medal ceremony because players were throwing their medals into the crowd. The IIHF suspended several players from future events, with captain Lias Andersson serving four games for his actions.
Since that incident in 2018, and the two captured bronze medals in 2020 and 2022, the team brings their total medal count to 21. In 43 tournament appearances, they have won gold twice, silver 11 times, and bronze eight times, producing a 180-101-13 record.
The World Junior Championship Win Streak Record
Sweden hosted the 2007 World Junior Championship in the cities of Leksand and Mora. After dropping their opening contest to Canada, 2-0, the home country bounced back with wins over Slovakia (6-3) and Germany (3-1) before losing in overtime (3-2) to the United States on Dec. 31, 2006.
The New Year’s date turned out to be one of the most significant dates in tournament history since it marked the last time Sweden would lose a group-stage game until Dec. 30, 2020, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Russia ended the Swede’s astonishing 54-game win streak with a 4-3 overtime win, ending the best preliminary win streak in World Junior history.
Of course, like any win streak, there were moments throughout various tournaments when Sweden had to secure wins in overtime and a shootout to extend their record. They went a perfect 4-0 every year from 2008 to 2010 before securing a 3-2 shootout win over Canada on Dec. 31, 2010, to push their streak to 16 games.
The wins were harder to come by in 2012, with two coming in extra time. Sweden beat Switzerland, 4-3, in a shootout before edging Russia, 4-3, in overtime on the final day of the preliminary round to earn the top spot in their group. The Swiss proved to be a burden in the round robin, pushing Sweden to the brink early in the 2013 tournament forcing the nordic team to extend their streak in a shootout.
Back on home ice for the 2014 tournament, the host country extended its win streak to 28 games by going a perfect 4-0. They continued their unbeaten ways through the next four tournaments (16-0) until Russia forced them into a shootout in the final match of the opening round in the 2018 tournament. After escaping with a 4-3 win that night, the streak reached 44 games. Furthermore, in 2019, Sweden beat the United States, 5-4, in overtime in their third game to extend their streak for another tournament.
In 2020, the streak almost ended in the first game against Finland before Sweden extended it again with a 3-2 overtime victory to finish the tournament with 52 straight preliminary wins. When the puck dropped in the 2021 tournament, held at an empty Rogers Place (due to COVID-19 restrictions), Sweden destroyed the Czech Republic, 7-1, and Austria, 4-0, before their matchup against Russia on Dec. 30. The streak was in serious jeopardy when Russia went ahead 2-0. Still, Sweden tied it in the second period before the teams traded goals in the third. Arvid Costmar took a penalty in overtime, which allowed Marat Khusnutdinov to tally the winner on the man advantage to end the most remarkable win streak in tournament history.
During the streak, Sweden had the best record against Switzerland and the Czech Republic (8-0). They were 7-0 against Finland and Russia while winning five straight against Slovakia and four against Denmark. After defeating Canada and Latvia in three straight, they took two against Austria, Norway, Kazakhstan, and the United States. Additionally, the Swedes beat Belarus in their only meeting during the streak.
Peter Forsberg’s Place in World Junior History
The first World Junior Championship-scoring champion(s), with nine points, was Roland Eriksson (Sweden) and Viktor Khatulev (Soviet Union) in 1974. No one hit double digits in points until the 1977 tournament when Canada’s Dale McCourt potted 18 points, which remained the record until 1983 when Vladimír Růžička (Czech Republic) collected 20 points. The totals continued to increase, with Raimo Helminen (Finland) scoring 24 in 1984 to create a new record until 1993.
Forsberg was 20 years old when he participated in the 1993 World Junior Championship, held in Gävle, Sweden. After collecting 11 points in seven games in 1992, Forsberg exploded for 31 points (seven games) in 1993, claiming the scoring record that still stands 29 years later. He set tournament records for most assists (24) and most points in a single game (10 against Japan) while helping linemate Näslund score 13 goals in a single tournament. Despite these superstars’ performances, Sweden lost in the gold medal game against Canada.
In the years following Forsberg’s unbelievable tournament in 1993, not a single player has scored 20 points, meaning his mark of 31 points is one of the game’s safest records. Furthermore, the Canadian network TSN proclaimed Forsberg as the tournament’s most outstanding player, thanks to an unmatched record of 42 points in just 14 games.
Sweden’s Past and Future at the World Junior Championship
Sweden has hosted the World Junior Championship on six occasions, most recently in 2014, and will host again in Gothenburg, the country’s second-largest city, in 2024. The Nordic country, which continuously ranks among the best hockey nations in the world, has produced seven tournament-leading scorers, one MVP, and 45 all-star members. Regarding individual awards, Sweden has had the best forward and best defenceman at seven tournaments, with their goalies winning eight trophies, including the most recent one, Jesper Wallstedt.
Only seven Swedish-born players are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and five have skated in the World Junior Championship, including Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Forsberg, Niklas Lidström, and Mats Sundin. Only Daniel Alfredsson and the late Björe Salming didn’t play in the tournament.
No matter what page of history you flip to, Sweden’s roots at the World Junior Championship run deep. From the tournament’s first leading scorer to its all-time leading scorer, the country takes pride in sending its best junior players to compete with the world’s best. Although their trophy case doesn’t have as much gold as other countries, some of Sweden’s best players have skated at the tournament and gone on to have distinguished careers in professional leagues across the globe.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.