PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Anton Lander wore the Tre Kronor four years in a row as a teenager. Now 24, he is once again representing his home country of Sweden, this time at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Czech Republic.
"I've played for Sweden before and it's always a pleasure to be on the national team, but this…this is something special," he said smiling. "I'm really proud to be part of this. When I was a little kid I always watched the World Championship and now I'm playing in it. I'm really excited and really happy to be here."
Having contributed two goals and two assists in seven games thus far, Lander and his Swedish teammates finished second in Group A - just behind Canada - and will play Russia in the quarterfinals later today. Their biggest challenge will be maintaining puck possession.
"We need to focus on their transitions. They're going to be fast and we need to be quicker because they have a lot of skills up front," Lander explained. "We have to be prepared to have three guys back and don't allow too many turnovers. Just try to bring the puck into the zone and keep it there, trying to play more offence than defence."
|Anton Lander (left) has enjoyed success on a line with Filip Forsberg (right) (Photo by Getty Images.) |
For Lander, his goal is to keep things simple.
"I just try to focus on my own game and try to do what I can to help the team win. I talk to my linemates a lot so we can keep growing and keep getting better as the tournament goes on," he said. "It's been four years since I've played a real game on the big ice. So, it takes time to get used to that again and it's more skating around instead of stops and starts and we want to keep the puck within the team and not so much chip and chase.
"So, that's what we're trying to work on. I talk a lot with my linemates to see what they're thinking and see what I'm thinking and get a good mix in there together. I know my linemates, but I've never played with them until now, so we just have to figure how they're playing and how I'm playing and come together."
Come together, they have. On a line with Loui Eriksson and Filip Forsberg, they have 13 goals and nine assists in seven games. Forsberg even leads the tournament in goals with eight.
"I get to play with skilled hockey players in Edmonton and I get to play with skilled hockey players here with Sweden too. Every guy is different. They have different personalities and different talents and are different hockey players," Lander explained. "Learning to play with different people and be able to find success together is part of the challenge of playing and what makes it fun."
Coming off his most successful season as a professional, having not only earned consistent ice time with the Edmonton Oilers, but also putting up consistent points as well, there's a marked difference in his game.
"I feel stronger out there and quicker and have more confidence," he said. "This is a different level though. These are the top players in the world. It's fun to be out there with them and battle with them and compete hard and know that you can do this. I think the experience alone has challenged me and will make me an even better player."
|Photo by Getty Images. |
While Lander is known for his 200ft game, willingness to go to the dirty areas and play-making abilities, he is also known for his maturity and leadership. He played twice at the U18 World Championship and twice at the World Junior Championship and was captain of both teams in his final year of eligibility. As a professional, he has also been captain of the Oklahoma City Barons, the Oilers AHL affiliate, the past two years. It is no wonder that his ability to lead by example has also been a big asset for Sweden here in Czech Republic too.
"Anton is a smart guy and plays smart hockey. He's always making sure the other guys on the ice are in the right position and talking with them and know what he's going to do. He communicates very well. He's a great leader…a future captain," said Swedish head coach Par Marts.
As the tournament turns the page to the medal round, the intensity rises a couple notches and the possibilities are a little more real - a loss means you're out of the tournament, but a win means you are guaranteed to play for a medal - there is no doubting where Lander's focus is.
"I want to win. That's what we're all here for. I may not get any goals, but I hope that I help my team win by doing other things because the ultimate goal is to win. I don't care how," he said. "When you play for Sweden, you always want to play in the finals and that's what everyone back home expects us to do and that's what we want to do. We want to win and go all the way."
While Lander is focused on winning some hardware here at the World Championship, he's also focused on using the opportunity to learn from the experience to take back with him to Edmonton, where he hopes to play his first full NHL season, and help the team earn a different kind of hardware next year.
"It's a great experience to play against the top players in the world, but at the same time you wish you were still playing at this time of the year back in North America too. You want to be in the playoffs. So, it's nice to be able to play this long into May…I like playing hockey in May. Maybe this will help for next year when we are competing for the Stanley Cup," he said with a hopeful grin.
Sweden and Russia drop the puck in the quarterfinal at 11:15am MT on TSN2.