Ostrava/Terinec - It wasn't the medal that shines the brightest. However, the bronze medal hanging around the necks of New York Rangers prospects Karl Henriksson and Nils Lundkvist still shined. And so did the players.
"A very nice way to end this tournament, but at the same time it tastes a bit bitter that we didn't win the semifinals," Lundkvist said after Team Sweden beat Team Finland 3-2 at the IIHF World Junior Championship on Sunday. "I would have loved playing in the finals."
Defenseman Lundkvist, drafted 28th overall by New York in 2018, and forward Henriksson, drafted 58th in 2019, didn't have a lot of time to hit the reset button after a tough semifinals loss against the Russians (5-4 in overtime) on Saturday.
"It was a bit tough to recharge," Henriksson said. "I think we were a bit off in the first period, but then we managed to regroup and I thought we fought all the way for this medal."
Finland got the lead twice in the first period, making it a 2-1 game. On Team Sweden's lone first period goal, Lundkvist had an assist. He got the puck to Rasmus Sandin, who scored on the power play. In the second, Sweden came back. Samuel Fagemo scored his eight goal of the tournament, tying it at 2-2, and then Linus Oberg found the back of the net, making it 3-2 with the game-winner.
Sweden made it to the elimination round by winning Group A, beating Finland (3-2 OT), Switzerland (5-2), Kazakhstan (6-2) and Slovakia (6-2). The four wins extended Sweden's group stage streak to 52 straight wins. In the quarterfinals, they beat the Czech Republic 5-0 before Russia stopped them in the semifinals.
Both Lundkvist and Henriksson have been big contributors in the Swedes' road to the bronze medal. Lundkvist, who plays in Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League, had one goal and seven assists in seven games, playing big minutes both in the offensive and the defensive zones.
"I think I've developed a lot during this week," Lundkvist said. "I've been getting lots of opportunities both offensively and defensively. And I scored some points, too. It's been very fun playing in this tournament."
While Lundkvist put up a lot of points, Henriksson - who plays for Södertälje SK in the HockeyAllsvenskan - had a more reserved role, centering a line with wingers Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, both draft eligible 2020. But the 18-year-old, who had one goal and two assists, embraced his role.
"It has meant a lot just being here," Henriksson said. "Playing in a World Junior tournament is a big deal, and very good for me. I've got the chance to play at this level and in this kind of games."
Even though Sweden missed the chance to play for a gold medal, both Lundkvist and Henriksson enjoyed the tournament in the eastern part of Czech Republic. The bronze was Team Sweden's second medal in three years (they earned silver in 2018 in Buffalo). The nation hasn't won a gold medal since 2012 in Calgary, but the bronze was still a nice way to end the tournament, according to both Henriksson and Lundkvist.
"In a week or so, I think we are going to be pleased about what we have done here," Lundkvist said. "We were really good in the preliminary round and fought well in both the quarter and semifinals. We were close, but came up short this time. Obviously a nice feeling winning the bronze medal."