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Swedes roll to third straight inline world gold

by Bill Meltzer
For many ice-hockey players around the world, the end of the ice-hockey season means the beginning of inline hockey season. In the realm of high-stakes international competition, the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation-sanctioned Inline Hockey World Championship was recently completed in Ingolstadt, Germany.

Team Sweden lived up to the famous tre kronor (three crowns) on its uniform by capturing its third consecutive gold medal, rallying in the waning seconds of regulation to down Team USA, 7-6. The Swedes have won five gold medals in the history of the tournament. The host Germans took the bronze, downing Finland, 9-5.

Last-place Slovakia (0-4-1) will not be relegated to Division I by virtue of beating this year's Division I champion, Austria, as well as Division I runner-up Brazil in crossover games. In the elite tournament, the Slovaks were the victims of the tourney's most lopsided loss, getting thrashed by Germany, 14-3.

Detroit Red Wings prospect Dick Axelsson, who split the 2008-09 ice season between Djurgardens IF and eventual champion Farjestads BK, dominated the tournament for Tre Kronor. He led all scorers with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) in six games. A year ago, Axelsson racked up 9 goals and 7 assists in 6 games en route to capturing Most Valuable Player honors and the gold medal. The left wing was also a member of Team Sweden's victorious 2007 squad.

Team Germany right wing Patrick Reimer, who plays in Germany's DEL for the DEG Metro Stars of Dusseldorf, was the tourney's leading goal scorer with 10 goals. Linemate Thomas Greilinger, a member of ERC Ingolstadt during the ice-hockey season, was the tourney's most prolific playmaker along with Axelsson. Greilinger compiled a dozen assists to capture Best Forward honors in the tournament.

Swedish goalie Dennis Karlsson took the Best Goaltender award. Karlsson, who split the 2008-09 ice hockey season between top Swedish minor league (Allsvenskan) club Boras HC and second tier (Division I) minor-league team Ulricehamns IF,  posted a 3.64 goals-against average and an .867 save percentage.

Team USA's Ernie Hartlieb, a member of the ECHL's Florida Everblades, generally plays as a forward during the ice season but suited up as a defenseman in the Inline World Championship to tally 6 goals in 6 games and win Best Defenseman honors. Teammate J.P. Beilsten, who played in the UHL for the Missouri River Otters during the 2008-09 ice-hockey campaign, led all defensemen in the tourney with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) in six games.

En route to capturing the gold medal, Sweden opened the tournament with a 6-4 win against Team Canada. Axelsson scored the game-winner in the fourth quarter (unlike the traditional three 20-minute periods of ice hockey, the inline hockey tournament is played with four 12-minute quarters). Henrik Hoglund, a member of Norwegian team Stjernen (Stars) Hockey, later added some insurance.

In their next game, the Swedes suffered their lone setback of the tourney, dropping a 9-8 match to the Czech Republic. Former Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins forward Petr Tenkrat tallied a power-play goal late in regulation to lift the Czechs to victory against the Swedes. A few minutes earlier, Hoglund forged an 8-8 tie, setting up the dramatic finish.

Tre Kronor rebounded quickly from the loss. In the final game of the preliminary round, the Swedes and Americans provided a prelude to the gold-medal clash. Tre Kronor prevailed in a shootout, 7-6, in a game that saw Team USA jump out to a 2-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Swedes came out to take a 6-5 lead in the fourth quarter, only to see Beilsten score with just 12 seconds left to send the game to overtime. After a scoreless five-minute extra frame, the game moved to a shootout. Kristian Luukkonen of Swedish Division I's Kungalvs IK, scored the deciding tally.

In the gold-medal tilt against Team USA, the Swedes once again had to rally in the final quarter. This time, the Swedes actually had a short-lived early lead, as Wessner opened the scoring just 45 seconds after the opening faceoff, only to see Brian Yingling respond quickly. Later, the teams exchanged goals 55 seconds apart to close the first quarter tied 2-2.

Sweden took a 3-2 lead 2:44 into the second quarter as Klasen perfectly set up Andreas Svensson on a 2-on-1 rush. The Swedish lead doubled on a goal off the faceoff, giving Sweden a 4-2 advantage at halftime.

In the third quarter, Hartlieb erased a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals before Walter Sweatt gave the Americans a 5-4 lead, scoring off the line rush. In order to halt the momentum, Team Sweden changed goaltenders, replacing Karlsson with Pontus Sjogren (Sodertalje SK).

Five minutes into the fourth quarter, Axelsson got loose to tie the game again, 5-5. But Yingling struck right back for the Americans, making it a 6-5 advantage for Team USA. The Americans held on to the advantage until late in regulation. After Sweden took a timeout, Martin Thelander (a member of Danish team Herlev IC) put home a loose puck with a diving effort to tie the game, 6-6. Klasen then scored the gold-medal winner.

Next year, the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship will come to the land of the defending gold medalists. The 2010 tournament will be played in Karlstad, Sweden, home of the famous Farjestad ice hockey team.

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