CALGARY -- It might've been more of a test than Sweden was looking for in its World Junior Championship opener against Latvia on Boxing Day.
But once the Swedes were able to work out the bugs in their tournament opener in front of a decidedly pro-Latvian crowd at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday, they earned a 9-4 victory.
From the onset of the game, Sweden had problems pulling away from Latvia, who were promoted to the tournament after winning the 2011 Division I Group A World Juniors a year ago in Belarus.
"It's hard for the players," Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg said. "We looked a little bit nervous or anxious in the game for sure. We were able to stick to our game plan and play our game and we did that more and more as the game went on."
Though they were the eventual losers, Latvian Zemgus Girgensons was proud of the way his team played in the tournament opener against a strong Swedish squad.
"We gave our best effort all the time," said Girgensons, who is eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft. "Everyone knows they are a more skilled team. We just try to work hard and got the greasy goals. We thought we had a hope and played with hope the whole time. We were proud of our game. It was a good game for us."
Max Friberg found the back of the net four times and Mika Zibanejad added two goals, helping Sweden overcome an underdog Latvian squad.
"I was happy for the four goals, of course," Friberg said. "It's perfect for me. Before I always had to fight to get a goal, always struggled a bit before I would get one. I'm lucky this time."
Ronnberg was happy with the way Friberg contributed, and not just on the score sheet.
"He's a coach's dream player," he said. "He always contributes. He always competes. He makes all the little things on the ice. It's good to see he can score some goals, too."
It was Friberg who put Sweden on the board first. With Girgensons in the box for charging, Sweden's power play went to work with a beautiful passing play. On the half-wall, Ludvig Rensfeldt fired a pass to Johan Larsson to the left of the goal. He quickly fed Friberg out front, who beat Latvian starting goalie Kristers Gudlevskis to make it 1-0 just 3:28 into the game.
Latvia quickly responded with a power-play marker of their own after a seeing-eye point shot off the stick of Toms Andersons beat a screened Johan Gustafsson at 5:34.
After Friberg's added his second of the period, Ottawa Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad made it 3-1 for Sweden, one-timing a pass from Sebastian Collberg behind Gublevskis at 8:13.
Just 41 seconds later and on just their second shot of the game, Latvia was able to crawl back to within one goal. Nikita Jevpalovs chipped the puck over to Roberts Lipsbergs, who broke in alone and beat Gustafsson over the glove to make it 3-2.
Though they didn't record a shot on goal in the second period until 5:38, 2012 Draft eligible forward Sebastian Collberg made it count, taking a Jonas Brodin point shot off the end boards and putting it behind Gudlevskis to make it 4-2.
Again, the Latvians refused to let Sweden pull away. With a scramble in front of Gustafsson, Lipsbergs tucked the puck into the Swedish net to bring Latvia to within one.
It was the last time Latvia could push back against Sweden, who took the momentum of a 6-3 lead into the third period after Erik Thorell jammed the puck across the goal line and into the Latvian net and Zibanejad, with a carbon copy goal of his first period power play marker with 4:22 remaining in the second period.
The Latvians couldn't overcome the Swedish wave in the third.
Joakim Nordstrom scored his first of the tournament at 12:14 of the third period before giving way to Friberg. With just 6:33 remaining in the game, Friberg snapped the puck over the blocker of Gudlevskis. 1:40 later, he beat Gudlevskis over the glove from the slot for his fourth of the night.
Girgensons redirected a point shot on the power play with 1:10 remaining to make the final 9-4.