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World Junior Championship brings back golden memories for Klingberg, Nemeth

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Before they were teammates with the Dallas Stars defensemen John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth teamed up to help Sweden break a long drought at the World Junior Championship.

It was 2012, and the tournament was played in Western Canada as Calgary and Edmonton hosted some of the top under-20 players in the world.

“It was great to play in Canada with the crowd, and World Juniors is so big there around Christmas and the holidays,” said Klingberg. “It was a great experience.”

“You really haven’t played in front of that crowd before, so that was really cool,” added Nemeth. “We had a really good team. Some of the players are now in the NHL.”

Along with Nemeth and Klingberg, Sweden’s roster also featured Oscar Klefbom (Edmonton), Jonas Brodin (Minnesota) and Dallas prospect Mattias Backman (Texas Stars) on defense. The forward group included Johan Larsson (Buffalo), Joakim Nordstrom (Carolina), Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa), Rickard Rakell (Anaheim), Filip Forsberg (Nashville) and Victor Rask (Carolina).

This wasn’t the first time Klingberg and Nemeth had represented Sweden at the World Juniors. In 2011, the pair played in Buffalo, where Sweden fell to the USA in the bronze medal game. In 2012, it was a much different story.

“We had a perfect tournament,” Klingberg said. “We didn’t lose a game.”

But it wasn’t an easy tournament for the Swedes. Four of their six games went beyond regulation, including two of their four games in group play and both games in the playoff round. Some big rallies were needed as well, including the semifinals when they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to top Finland in a shootout.

“That’s maybe why we got stronger as the tournament went because we really didn’t have any easy games,” said Klingberg. “Even turning the game around in the semifinals made us stronger.”

“There were close games, but we handled them pretty well,” said Nemeth.

Two of the more dramatic overtime games came against Russia, and in both Nemeth played a big role in Sweden coming out on top.

In its final game of group play, Sweden fell behind Russia 3-0 and then scored three times in the third period to tie and force overtime. Nemeth picked up an assist on the second goal, and Anaheim prospect Max Friberg scored the game-tying goal with 40 seconds left in regulation. In the extra period, Sweden won the game and an automatic berth to the semifinals when a Nemeth shot was tipped into the net by Nordstrom at the 2:44 mark.

“Nordstrom took my goal there,” Nemeth said with a laugh. “He stole my goal.”

In the semifinals against Finland, Sweden scored twice in the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit and then won the game in a shootout. Friberg scored the game-tying goal and then the shootout-winner. That set up a rematch with Russia for the gold medal. Sweden outshot Russia 39-4 in the first two periods and had a 50-16 shots advantage through regulation, but the game headed to overtime in a scoreless tie. And Nemeth came up big again.

After losing the puck on a wrap-around attempt in the offensive zone, Nemeth hustled back on the backcheck and knocked the puck away from Russia’s Nikita Kucherov in the neutral zone. Zibanejad grabbed the puck, broke in on net and scored on a backhand shot to give Sweden the gold.

“It was a backcheck, the puck was loose, and Zibanejad picked it up and scored,” Nemeth said. “It was an easy assist.”

“He backchecked pretty good there and used his strong arms like he always does, and he took the puck from Kucherov,” said Klingberg. “That was great. He had a great tournament.”

And it was a great tournament for Sweden, which won its first gold medal at the World Juniors in 31 years.

“It was big. The World Junior team started to play well maybe three or four years earlier, and it was becoming popular in Sweden. When we won it made it grow even more,” said Nemeth, who led Swedish defensemen in scoring with five points (all assists). “It was a great experience for me before I came over to North America to play.”

“It was big for the Swedish people. It was very big back home, the World Juniors because it is around the holidays. It’s fun to watch,” said Klingberg. “It was fun to end an era with the national team in juniors with a lot of guys you know with a win in the World Juniors. It was great.”

2012 World Juniors notes

Patrik Nemeth, John Klingberg and Texas Stars defenseman Mattias Backman weren’t the only players in the Dallas organization playing at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak won a bronze medal at the tournament with Canada.

Texas Stars center Radek Faksa, whom Dallas would draft six months later, played for Czech Republic.

Texas Stars goaltender Jack Campbell played for Team USA.

2016 World Junior Championship

The 2016 World Junior Championship gets underway Dec. 26 in Finland and runs through Jan. 5. Two Dallas Stars prospects are expected to play in this year’s tournament. Forward Denis Gurianov, the Stars’ first-round pick in 2015, is on Russia’s preliminary roster for the tournament. Forward Roope Hintz, Dallas’ second-round pick in 2015, is on Finland’s final roster for the tournament.

The NHL Network is providing coverage of the 2016 World Junior Championship. The schedule can be found by clicking here.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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