Ostrava/Trinec, Czech Republic - Team Sweden is heading to the quarterfinals as winners of Group A in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. The Swedes, including New York Rangers prospects Nils Lundkvist and Karl Henriksson, defeated Team Slovakia 6-2 on New Year's Eve to clinch the win.
Nils Lundkvist and the rest of Team Sweden have won all four group stage games to get ready for what awaits: a do-or-die game against the home nation Czech Republic at Ostravar Arena on Thursday.
"It's going to be a lot of fun playing a game there," Lundkvist said of playing in the main rink in Ostrava.
Against the Slovaks, the defenseman had an assist for a total of four points during the tournament. He has played a big role on Team Sweden, getting a lot of ice time from Head Coach Tomas Montén. Against Team Slovakia, he played just under 18 minutes.
"I think I've played pretty good," Lundkvist said of his game in the tournament. "It's been kind of like the rest of the team - I think we have done what we needed to do."
The Swedes didn't have too much trouble winning their fourth straight game in the tournament and 52nd straight group stage game. The Yellow and Blue's first goal of the game was scored just seconds after a power play at 8:59 of the first period, when Alexander Holtz scored on a wrist shot from the left circle, beating goaltender Samuel Hlavaj glove side.
It looked like the Swedes had scouted that particular area of the goaltender. Both 2-0 (Albin Eriksson) and 3-0 (Philip Broberg) also scored past Hlavaj's glove.
Sweden got its fourth and fifth goals in the second period. Oskar Back redirected Adam Ginnings' pass to make it 4-0 and then Holtz made it 5-0 at 16:09. The Slovaks then scored twice to make it 5-2 before Sweden capped off the scoring with a Samuel Fagemo strike, the assists from Lundkvist and Nils Hoglander.
"The game it self wasn't very exiting," Lundkvist said."We scored two goals pretty fast and the rest was just a journey to what we all are waiting for. We are excited for it."
The 19-year-old Lundkvist - who has had a big year in the SHL with Lulea, tallying 17 points in 24 games - looks to help Team Sweden win its first gold medal since 2012. That year, Rangers center Mika Zibanejad scored the game winner in overtime against Team Russia.
Playing in the quarterfinals against Czech Republic is just the first step towards the team's ultimate goal: winning the gold medal. But playing against the home team will be a big test for the Swedes, Lundkvist thinks.
"I think we need to lift our game a bit if we want to fight for medals," he said.
In the preliminary round, Team Sweden started off with two big tests, playing the reigning champs Finland in the opener before taking on Switzerland in the second game. Then the Swedes finished against Kazakhstan and Slovakia, both lower-ranked nations.
"The first game [against Finland] was the most exciting one," Lundqvist said. "Switzerland was kind of tight, then the last two have been not so tight. We managed to win without having played super well."
Now, they might have to play more than well - at least if they want to win gold.