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U.S. understands challenge Sweden poses

by Adam Kimelman
SASKATOON, Sask. -- The U.S. team is very familiar with what they'll be facing when they take the ice Sunday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) against Sweden in the semifinals of the 2010 World Junior Championship.
When asked if there was any place his team could take advantage of the Swedes, U.S. coach Dean Blais said, "No."
"They've got a little bit of everything," Blais said. "(Jacob) Markstrom in goal, good specialty teams -- they know how to win."
And Sweden has won a lot the last three years. They're the two-time defending silver medalists, they went unbeaten in Group B this year, and outscored their four opponents, 28-6.
Leading the team is a pair of highly-regarded NHL prospects.
Forward Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson leads the team and is third in the event with 9 points. The 2009 first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers leads his team with 6 assists and 20 shots, and also has a plus-6 rating.
Markstrom, a 2008 second-round pick of the Florida Panthers who was named the best goalie at last year's tournament, leads this year's event with a 1.00 goals-against average and .969 save percentage. In three games he's allowed three goals on 97 shots.
Sweden also is the least penalized team in the tournament, with 46 penalty minutes -- the U.S. is the second-most penalized team, with 73 penalty minutes -- and when Sweden does go shorthanded, they're third in penalty killing, stopping 17 of 20 opposing power-play chances.
So how can the U.S. punch holes in the Sweden attack?
The U.S. is bigger and possibly just as fast man to man as the Swedes, so it's imperative they get on the attack early by getting pucks and winning battles along the walls and in the slot.
"They're a high-flying team and we just have to come out and play 60 minutes of our hockey," said U.S. captain Derek Stepan, who leads the tournament in scoring with 11 points. "We've got to use our speed and chip in pucks deep and go to work and play down low because that's when we get successful, when we play down low."
The U.S. has shown a willingness to skate into the nasty areas to score goals, and one of the more memorable moments from last year's tournament was Markstrom losing his composure when Canada put bodies en masse to the front of the net in the gold-medal game.
"They're a talented squad," said Jerry D'Amigo, who had a pair of goals against Finland. "We know what they have but we have a lot more than that. We work hard. We can beat them at their own game and win the game."
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