International Ice Hockey Federation

Shadow of Zibanejad

Shadow of Zibanejad

Five years since last Swedish WJC gold

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Shadow of Zibanejad
Swedish forward Mika Zibanejad celebrates his game-winning goal. Photo: Andy Devlin / HHOF-IIHF Images
The Swedes have won 40 straight World Junior group games. But unless this year's team matches the gold medal heroics of Mika Zibanejad, a shadow will linger.

At the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship in Calgary, Alberta, the explosive Stockholm-born centre stole the spotlight. Zibanejad scored the 1-0 overtime winner against Russia on a spectacular solo rush in the gold medal game at the Saddledome. It remains a vivid memory for him.

“Five years ago!” Zibanejad exclaimed. “Yeah, it seems like a long time, even though I think when you say five years, it feels like it’s been longer. But also, it’s something I remember like it was yesterday. It was a fun tournament to be part of, and obviously winning helps a lot. Being close to the guys for that long and really pulling it through, it’s cool.”

Even as a pro, the good vibes have persisted for him in Calgary. Back in February, he set a new Ottawa Senators team record there by scoring a natural hat trick in 2:38 in a 6-4 win over the Flames.

“You can’t really explain it,” Zibanejad said. “I’ve had two memorable situations there. It’s fun.”

This season hasn’t been that much fun for the 23-year-old, who set new career highs in 2015-16 (21-30-51 in 81 games). When the Senators traded him and a 2018 second-round pick to the New York Rangers for Derrick Brassard and a 2018 seventh-round pick in July, the son of an Iranian father and Finnish mother was ready to embrace the rewards and challenges of life in the Big Apple.

Upgrading to a bona fide Stanley Cup contender under coach Alain Vigneault and playing second-line center behind top pivot Derek Stepan all looked very appealing. However, Zibanejad, who has 15 points in 19 games so far, suffered a broken fibula in a 20 November game against the Florida Panthers and is continuing to recuperate.

It’s given him more time to reflect on the glories of the 2012 Swedish World Junior team.

When Zibanejad looks back at a Juniorkronorna team that earned four wins in extra time en route to the nation’s first World Junior gold in 31 years, he recalls the coaching with great fondness. U.S. President Ronald Reagan was nicknamed “The Great Communicator,” and apparently, Roger Ronnberg, who now coaches Frolunda Gothenburg, could have earned that nickname too.

“Coming in, it was a group where we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. It came from us and we had a very high ceiling. We could demand things from one another. And if there was something we weren’t comfortable with or had an issue with, then the conversation going back and forth with Roger was really good. He was really open. He wasn’t very set in his ways. The biggest thing for him was that he was able to differentiate between the player and the person. What he said on the ice and all that was never to insult the other person. It was to help you become a better player.”

It’s an approach that appears to have borne fruit. Other Swedish NHL stars who played on the 2012 team include Nashville’s Filip Forsberg, Dallas’s John Klingberg, and Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin.

What advice would Zibanejad give this year’s Swedes as the Group A leaders head into the playoffs?

“Overall, I think it’s just a tournament you have to enjoy,” Zibanejad said. “You never know if it’s your last tournament. It might be your last championship with that group, and you really want to finish off on a high note. There’s no better way to enjoy it than to win it.”

The Swedes settled for silver in 2013 and 2014 and went home emptyhanded the last two years. Will 2017 be the year when the shadow is lifted?


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