MONTREAL - There's nothing quite like representing your country on the international stage.
Nineteen-year-old defenseman Mattias Norlinder, who is sporting Sweden's colors for the first time at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, can certainly attest to that.
"I just love being here with the guys," said Norlinder, following a 6-2 triumph over Slovakia on Tuesday in the Czech Republic. "Hopefully we can make it a long trip here and just keep going."
So far, so good for Norlinder and his teammates. They were the lone squad to go undefeated during the preliminary round and finished atop Group A.
Up next, they'll play the host Czechs on Thursday in one of four quarterfinal games on the schedule.
For his part, Norlinder is still seeking his first point of the tournament. Through four games, the Kramfors native has four shots on goal and a plus-1 differential while averaging 11:32 of ice time per outing.
Participating in the event is another important experience for the Canadiens' third-round selection (64th overall) this past June, who is also picking up plenty of hockey knowledge with MODO back home in Sweden's second-highest league - the Allsvenskan.
"I'm learning a lot with MODO and trying to focus day by day and do my thing," explained Norlinder, the club's third-highest scoring defenseman so far this season with 14 points (6g, 8a) - along with a plus-9 differential - in 28 games. "I have more confidence out there. I like to bring the puck up the ice and just try to make plays."
Nevertheless, Norlinder's primary focus isn't on putting up big numbers. He wants to develop into a solid all-around player and help MODO succeed in the long run.
"I don't think too much about the points. I'm just trying to make good plays out there," admitted Norlinder, who recently signed a one-year contract extension with MODO through the 2020-21 campaign. "I know I have to improve in the defensive zone. I'm pretty young, and hopefully I can get bigger and stronger. The main goal for the season is to bring MODO to the SHL. I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully we can make it."
Earlier in the week, we learned that the Habs' hopeful is actually a big fan of captain Shea Weber.
He also makes an effort to follow the CH from overseas.
"I'm just seeing some highlights of the games," mentioned Norlinder. "It's pretty hard to see the guys in the NHL with the time difference, so I watch some highlights sometimes."
That has him extra pumped for his future with Montreal.
"When I found out I was drafted, I was so happy and proud to be a part of the Habs' organization," said Norlinder. "I'm looking forward to seeing all the fans out there."