Heja Sverige! Zibanejad Ends 31 Year WJC Drought for Sweden

It shouldn't have even been this close.

Justice was finally served in the form of Mika Zibanejad, Sweden's star 18 year old centre picking up a loose puck at the Russian blueline and skating in all alone, doing a forehand to backhand deke to finally bring a nation out of their junior hockey misery and to the place that they rightfully belonged in 2012: on top of the junior hockey world. And you know, what, they're kind of happy about it:

It was Sweden's 58th shot on Andrei Makarov, the surprise Russian starting goaltender who was absolutely heroic in a game in which his teammates couldn't do much of anything right in front of him. Sweden dominated from the start, and only in the third period did Russia mount any kind of counter attack. They almost stole this one because of Makarov, much like how they rode Andrei Vasilevskiy as far as he could take them leading up to the gold medal game. Johan Gustafsson thwarted a couple of good chances, particularly by robbing Nikita Gusev in the final minute of regulation.

Sweden wins. And there is no denying it: they were the best team at this tournament. They came over to Alberta and never lost once. They even beat Canada in the final pre-tournament game when Canada had a fully healthy roster. They dominated their group. They outshot all their opponents in this tournament combined 318-122. The most shots they allowed in a game was 27 to Switzerland, who forced them to a shootout. Max Friberg led the tournament with 8 goals plus two shootout markers.

And in the final, they outshot their opponents 58-17, and embarassed Russia horribly in the first fourty minutes. It was almost like Sweden was playing Bulgaria. Zibanejad had seven shots total, as did Rickard Rakell. 12 Swedish players had more shots on goal than any Russian player did (Russia's players topped out at 2 shots).

But they couldn't score. Andrei Makarov did get some form of help from his teammates, who protected the cross-ice passes very well and allowed Makarov, a goaltender who likes to play deep in his crease, the ability to react to shots from further out. Sweden didn't get many odd-man breaks, in fact, I can't think of a single breakaway before Zibanejad's golden goal. Sweden didn't get many rebound chances, and didn't set up many deflections, either. The difficulty rating of Sweden's chances wasn't enormously high, but the volume, and the continual pressure was amazing. It was amongst the best games I've ever seen a team play in a Final.

I'll have more to say about the tournament as a whole later, but Sweden deserves their moment before we get all reflective. They won this event in 1981, but no one cared about this tournament back then accept the parents of the players and the national federations. This is a huge moment for Swedish hockey, and we best let them enjoy it, like the SVT announcers above sure were.

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