With the Swedish World Cup squad having their first official practice today, there was an opportunity to speak with the two Tampa Bay Lightning players, Victor Hedman and Anton Strålman, after practice.
Both are looking forward to what they describe as a great tournament. When it comes to the Swedish team and the first practice, Anton Strålman said “I think the team looks amazing. I actually realized the other day; I am the oldest defender on the team, it’s insane. There are plenty of good characters in this group that can make a difference and take charge when needed. We also all know how we should play and the roles we have in the team. We need to step it up in practices to get the body up in shape into match tempo”.
Victor Hedman joined in saying “It’s great that we have a lineup like this, and we have an awesome crew on the blue line. We will do our best to keep the pucks away from our own net. Anton and I will try to play our own game, the game we usually play in Tampa. We need to play smart and join the attack when we can, play aggressively when we have to. You have to get into the mind to win your line changes at all times.”
Playing together (a fact confirmed by Swedish assistant coach Peter Popovic) on a national team in a tournament like this, Headman says it is “brilliant, just brilliant. We have good chemistry on the ice we know each other well. Even dressing only six defenders is not that much of a change in Tampa we sometimes use seven and sometimes we play six defenders so I don’t think it will be a huge change for me and Anton. As for the rest of the group; us Swedes are usually easy to play with we can play with anyone really. It doesn’t even matter what side we play on.”
Says Strålman: “It’s great at the start to feel like home. We have played together for two years and we have gone deep into the playoffs both times. We have an understanding, you feel secure in your positions and your whole game really. It’s also fun to play together on a team like this.”
When asked if Strålman is recovered after his injury from late last season, Hedman responded, ”You have to ask him that! He looks great out on the ice,” Hedman said with a laugh.
Strålman followed in suit, “I feel really good after the injury. The body has responded well and I have recovered fully. You are always a bit worried when you start building up after an injury but I have been able to push on really well. I am satisfied with the progress.”
Sweden got a late withdrawal from Niklas Kronwall, and there is not a chance that Victor Hedman will replace the physical presence on the blue line; “I am not known to be the big brutal player on the ice. I have worked on becoming more proficient at throw around my body a bit, but I am not the guy that will go around looking for the big open ice tackles. I am there to win the puck and to defend well in my own zone in another way.”
The replacement player for Kronwall, Hampus Lindholm, is not too bad either: “Lindholm is a great player,” says Strålman. “We don’t play Anaheim that often unfortunately, but the times we have played them I think he is their best defender. He has stood out, and it is great that he is here.”
Strålman also thinks that Sweden’s aim should be gold. “We play for gold, that's why we play the game. We have a team that is strong enough to get it done, but it all comes down to preparation and how well we execute our game plan and how we gel as a team. It’s such a short tournament, three games in four days and then you might go home. It’s incredibly intensive in that way. The devil is in the details, and in that regard we have to prepare well.”