Sweden ready for Women’s Worlds
Although they had two tough bronze-medal losses in the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games, the Damkronorna have not had an easy development period within the national team. In 2013 the Swedish women even faced the unfamiliar task of fighting for their survival in the top division when they were forced into the relegation round against the Czech Republic, relievable coming out of the playoff victorious.
39-year coaching veteran Leif Boork has been with the Swedish women’s national team since he became the assistant coach during their run towards the Sochi Olympic Games, in 2014. The 66-year-old took over the head job the following year where he faced the tough task of leading his women into a home World Championship in 2015 in Malmo.
Their fifth-place result last year may have been disappointing to the Swedish fans, but it was no surprise to Boork as the country had just begun working on a more united path of women’s hockey in Sweden, plus the national team was fighting through some tough injuries that arose in the crucial stages right before the tournament.
“Swedish hockey had been divided, so we had to work with that and put everything together and make a decision for what is our direction of Swedish hockey and the national team. I think that we are on a good path now to make it better,” said Leif Boork.
Preparations during the 2015/16 season have also been disrupted by mass amounts of injuries, but with a squad of around 45 different women that have now played under Boork since he joined the team, it has become more manageable. He has been able to get to know how the ladies play and the combinations he can use. Throughout the many international tournaments this year the Swedes have had a mixed bag of results on the back of the many injury woes that they have faced.
“We know the players pretty well and we know in general the combinations that we have,” explains Boork. “But the problem this year is that we have had injuries and we haven’t played with the combinations we have wanted to during those different tournaments.”
It appears though that Boork and his coaching staff have finally found a way to combat whatever curve balls are thrown at them through injury, after the Damkronorna took out their final tournament before the Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, Canada that starts on Monday. Boork is not putting too much weight on the victories though, having the knowledge that both Finland and Russia were also missing some of their key players.
“Of course it was good for the collective confidence for the team to feel that victory, but at the same time I will not lift those victories too high. When you come to the World Championship or the Olympics, those tournaments will be much harder and have another type of mental pressure than the tournaments during the year.”
Sweden’s official squad was named on 15th March, and to much relief three of their five injured key stars were named on the roster to travel to Kamloops. Jenni Asserholt, Johanna Olofsson and Annie Svedin are said to be 100 per cent fit for the tournament, but Emma Nordin and Erika Grahm will not be rehabilitated in time from their long-term injuries.
Grahm and Nordin played on Sweden’s most successful line at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, along with Anna Borgqvist, who will now be placed with two new line-mates. This was one of the many challenges that Boork needed to address when naming his team, but believes that even though the team has had injuries leading into the 2016 Women’s Worlds they are much more prepared than they were the previous year.
“We will find a new environment for Borgqvist and that is one of the tasks we are standing for. We think we know how to do it but we haven’t played them together before the championships,” says Coach Boork.
“I’m more optimistic even if we have Erika Grahm and Emma Nordin injured. I’m more optimistic that we should be more stable and more consistent.”
The Damkronorna have also seen somewhat of a change of guard in between the pipes in 2016, with two new young faces, Minatsu Murase and Sara Berglund, to support veteran Sara Grahn.
“Now we have three goalies. Two young goalies Minatsu Murase and Sara Berglund, who has played well for us in some of the national games and we have Sara Grahm, who is a really experienced goalie,” explains Boork. “Minatsu is like goalie of the year among Swedish goalies in the Riksserien. We feel comfortable with those three goalies and how we go into the tournament within the hierarchy in the goalie situation.”
Sweden-born Minatsu Murase, whose parents are from Japan, has had a break-out year for AIK Stockholm in the Swedish women’s league Riksserien. The 20-year-old boasted a 1.59 goals-against-average and a 93.7 save percentage throughout the season to sit second-best in the league for both stats.
The development in the country is beginning to rise in a hope of one day reaching a standard much closer to their North American counterparts. The strength of the Riksserien is getting stronger and more competitive each and every season, and Murase isn’t the only young Swedish talent to look out for in the 2016 Women’s Worlds.
“Lisa Johansson for AIK has definitely developed well,” explains Boork and continues. “Hanna Skold, who is one of the youngest players on the team, born in ‘97, she had a really good year in Leksand. She is kind of the international player type, she is strong, kind of a grinder, but can see the play very good. Also Hanna Olsen, of course, she is just 17-years-old, but is a really big talent. She played for Djurgarden on the first line and produced a lot of points. I think she will perform well. I think she will be very well prepared when she comes to the world championships.”
The Swedes will head into the World Championship having to go the long way round, through Group B, against Japan, Czech Republic and Switzerland, needing to place in the top-two to make quarter-finals against the bottom two teams of Group A.
This familiar test, which the Swedes have faced before, does not have Coach Boork worried in the slightest, as he puts no limitations on what his group of women can achieve at the 2016 Women’s World Championship.
“If we put everything together I think we can definitely win our group. I think we have the capacity to beat Czech, Japan and Switzerland.”
“As I see it, on one hand we have to respect the teams from 4th to 8th. We need to respect every team that is in the top division. But at the same time I don’t see any limitations. We shouldn’t be afraid of meeting Russia and Finland and not even Canada and the USA.”
“We move in with open eyes but full of respect for every team, but with no limitations to challenge every team if we have the chance to do that.”
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