International Ice Hockey Federation

Swedes struggle but succeed

Swedes struggle but succeed

Boqvist gets three points, Belarus hangs tough

Published 15.08.2018 10:50 GMT+5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Swedes struggle but succeed
MAGNITOGORSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 21: Belarus's Yevgeni Oxentyuk #21 battles for the puck with Sweden's David Gustafsson #13 during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Sweden hasn't played to its potential, but hasn't paid the price either. Adam Boqvist had three points as the Swedes edged Belarus 4-3 on Saturday in U18 play.

David Gustafsson scored the eventual winner with under eight minutes left. Nikola Pasic also scored and added an assist, and Lukas Wernblom added a single for undefeated Sweden. Team scoring leader Jonatan Berggren had two helpers.

"Not our best game, obviously," said Swedish captain Adam Ginning. "But the most important thing is that we got a win, and we brought it in the last period. We’ll bring that forward in the tournament."

Vladimir Alistrov, Artyom Borshyov and Yevgeni Oxentyuk replied for Belarus, which put in a gutsy effort after falling 8-3 to Canada in its first game. They led 1-0 and 2-1 at different stages.

The Swedes, although highly touted as a group, also looked slow off the mark in their 3-1 opening win over Switzerland. Life only gets tougher for both teams. The Swedes face the defending champion Americans on Sunday, while Belarus battles winless Switzerland to avoid heading to the relegation round.

"The Americans are really good, but we’ve just got to play our game," said Gustafsson. "Have fast pucks up and hit them hard."

No players on either side are haunted by memories of the famous 2002 Olympic quarter-final where Belarus upset Sweden 4-3 on Vladimir Kopat’s late centre-ice goal on Tommy Salo. That’s because they were babies. Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden’s third goalie who didn’t dress for this game, wasn’t even alive yet (born 14 November, 2002).

Swedish backup Jesper Eliasson made his U18 debut between the pipes, while Nikita Tolopilo got his second start for Belarus after getting pulled three minutes into the opener against Canada. The Swedes outshot Belarus 43-26.

Sweden has never lost to Belarus in U18 play with seven straight wins dating back to 2002. However, this one looked dicey through 40 minutes.

"We played them last year and we played them two years ago, and it was the same," said Swedish coach Torgny Bendelin. "I tried to tell the players, but it was the same. Mostly, I think they’re a strong team. They came out really hard. They protected their net very well and the goalie was great.""

As against Canada, newly promoted Belarus was able to hold its own in the early going. The Swedes failed to convert on three consecutive power plays despite exerting good pressure.

The Belarusians drew first blood at 15:23. Vladislav Barkovski got the puck to the high slot, where Alistrov grabbed it, pivoted and lifted it past Eliasson’s blocker.

Coach Pavel Perepekhin's squad showed increased enthusiasm and physicality for the rest of the period. Sweden went to the dressing room frustrated after 20 minutes, despite a 14-7 edge in shots on goal.

The Smakronorna broke through with a 5-on-3 man advantage at 2:18 of the second period, as Wernblom hustled to the net to bang in a rebound. It was their first power play goal of these U18 Worlds.

Belarus had a response, and it was a goal Eliasson would like to have had back. With the man advantage, Borshyov tepped in from the centre point and slid a shot through the kneeling netminder’s pads for a 2-1 lead at 4:27.

Tolopilo continued to perform valiantly. He foiled Berggren when the Swedish forward, who notched a hat trick against Switzerland, split the Belarusian defence for a great chance.

"He was really good," Gustafsson said of Tolopilo. "He had some very extraordinary saves. All credit to him."

Finally Boqvist tied it up on a superb solo rush, surging through the neutral zone and snapping a shot past Tolopilo’s glove at 14:12.

"He was a different player today, but we have other players that we want a little bit more out of," said Bendelin.

The Swedes struggled to get it together. Late in the middle frame, Belarus got a 5-on-3 for 1:05 but couldn’t find the range.

In the third period, the Swedes wore Belarus down as the underdogs took three consecutive minors. At 11:21, after unrelenting pressure with the man advantage, Pasic banged it into a wide-open net for a 3-2 lead. Tolopilo had done all he could.

At 12:41, Gustafsson went to the net to convert Berggren's slap-pass on the power play and put Sweden up 4-2. That looked like insurance, but turned out to be the winner instead.

"Even if we missed a lot on the power play, it was still our power play that changed the game," said Bendelin.

The Belarusians wouldn't surrender. They pulled Tolopilo for the extra attacker with a late power play. Oxentyuk's shot rang off the post and then bounced in off Isak Lundkvist to make it 4-3 with 1:55 left.

The Russophile crowd was in a frenzy as the Belarusians kept the pressure on with six skaters down to the wire, but couldn't complete the comeback.


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