International Ice Hockey Federation

Eriksson Ek eager to excel

Eriksson Ek eager to excel

Farjestad product proud to captain Sweden

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Eriksson Ek eager to excel
After tallying two points in his World Junior debut last year, Joel Eriksson Ek will aim to lead Sweden to its third World Junior gold ever in Montreal. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
When Montreal hosted the World Juniors in 1978, Farjestad star Bengt-Ake Gustafsson captained Sweden. In 2017, another Farjestad talent will wear the “C.”

Those are some big skates for Joel Eriksson Ek to fill.

Between 1979 and 1989, Gustafsson scored 555 points in 629 career NHL games with the Washington Capitals. He also coached Sweden to its history-making “double gold” in 2006, topping the podium at both the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy and the IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia.

Yet regardless of the weight of history, Eriksson Ek sounds like he’s ready to roll at his second World Juniors.

“We have a great team with a lot of leaders,” the 19-year-old Karlstad native said after Sweden’s first practice at the Bell Centre on Christmas Day. “It’s a big honour for me to be the captain of the team.”

“He’s a great player,” said Swedish head coach Tomas Monten. “He played with us in the summer camp in Plymouth and wore the ‘C’ on his jersey then too. I think he’s not the most vocal guy, but he leads by example. He’s had a great season so far, trying to play in the NHL and playing big minutes in his club at home. He’s a complete player and he’s going to play big minutes for us. He’s a leader.”

The 2015 first-round pick (20th overall) of the Minnesota Wild made his NHL debut in October. He earned five points in nine games before being loaned back to Farjestad. In his best outing, Eriksson Ek got three assists in just 8:55 in a 5-0 road win over the Boston Bruins. His ice time peaked at 12:03 in his 29 October home debut versus the Dallas Stars.

“That’s a great team,” Eriksson Ek said of Minnesota. “They took care of me well, treated me like a member of the team. That was probably the best part. Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin, and of course the leaders like Mikko Koivu helped me a lot too.”

Even though he’ll spend the rest of the year in Sweden, he’s not disappointed. So far, he has two goals and one assist in eight games with Farjestad. The 189-cm, 92-kg centre will get more playing time in the SHL. In the long term, that should help him to shine in Minnesota, the U.S. state with the highest number of citizens of Swedish descent (more than 586,000). He’s joining an organization that looks to be on the upswing. Under coach Bruce Boudreau, the Wild are currently on a club-record 10-game winning streak, making them hotter than any other NHL team except the Columbus Blue Jackets (12 straight wins).

Meanwhile, Eriksson Ek is optimistic about Sweden’s chances of returning to the podium on 5 January. The Swedes haven’t medalled at the World Juniors since their heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to archrival Finland in the home-ice final in Malmo in 2014. Last year, Eriksson Ek chipped in one goal and one assist in six games in Helsinki as the blue-and-yellow boys came fourth.

This year, he expects more out of himself: “I should be one of the guys who can score goals and be an offensive threat. I’ll need to step up a little bit.”

Eriksson Ek is also excited about seeing what’s next for Buffalo Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander, who led Sweden last year with nine points: “He’s got a skilled game. Smooth, good with the puck. He’s a really good player.” And how about 16-year-old Frolunda Gothenburg defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, who last month became the second-youngest player ever to score a goal in the Swedish elite league? “He’s really young, but I can’t see that he’s so young on the ice. He plays good defence and good offence.”

Interestingly, one of Eriksson Ek’s idols is Gunde Svan, who won four Olympic gold medals for Sweden in cross-country skiing in the 1980’s. What appealed to him most about the Dala-Jarna native?

“He trained so hard to win. That’s probably the biggest part. He was so dedicated to his sport and did everything to win.”

That’s similar to the philosophy that Monten will be preaching and Eriksson Ek will be trying to exemplify here in Montreal. “If we play to our strengths, we can be competitive,” said Monten. “We need to play at a high pace and keep up the tempo of the game: skating, moving the puck. We want to put a lot of pressure on our opponents and not give them time and space. It’s really important for us to have short shifts and use our whole bench.”

“We need to come together as a group,” Eriksson Ek added. “Of course, we’ll need some luck too, because it’s a short tournament. People can get injured or sick, stuff like that. But we need to come together, work hard, and pay the price every day.”

The road to gold starts with a 13:00 matchup against neighbouring Denmark on Monday.

In 1978, Gustafsson brought a silver medal home to Sweden after a 4-1 loss to the Soviet Union in the gold medal game. That Soviet team featured Vyacheslav Fetisov and Sergei Makarov, both future members of the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team named in 2008.

Despite its history of producing superstars, Sweden has only won World Junior gold twice, in 1981 (West Germany) and 2012 (Canada). So if Eriksson Ek can lead his teammates to first place at the Bell Centre, he might start to build a legend of his own.

“He’s the guy the other guys follow,” said fellow returnee Rasmus Asplund. “He’s the leader we needed in this group and we got him. It’s good for us.”


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