Swedish forward Alexander Nylander skates with the puck and is followed by Belarus’ Igor Martynov. Photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Swede hopes to be better in semis
You wouldn’t have guessed Sweden defeated Slovakia to advance to the semi-final at the IIHF World Junior Championship after talking to Alexander Nylander.
The Swedish forward was critical of his own play following the 3-2 win in which he was held without a point.
The Buffalo Sabres prospect has a goal and five assists through the first five games of the tournament. Given that it is his third appearance at the Under-20 tournament and the fact that he was tied for the lead in points (12) at last year’s tourney, the 2016 first-round pick was expected to be dominant at this year's event.
“We have to step it up, my line and myself,” Nylander said. “I had a really bad game, which is unacceptable. I have to step it up a lot more next game. I’ve got to play a lot better. I wasn’t moving my feet and create more plays and use the stuff I’m good at, trying to get shots at the net and working hard. I’ve got to work harder.”
The 19-year-old aggravated a groin injury during Sabres rookie tournament and missed the first 14 games of the Rochester Americans schedule recovering.
Since returning from the injury, Nylander scored two goals and four assists in 15 American Hockey League games prior to the World Juniors and feels like he’s got his timing back.
“I think it’s coming back right now, but right now I’m just focusing on winning the next game, the semi-final game, and trying to get my game back,” he said. “It’s coming in this tournament that I’m playing in right now, but there is more that I can give.”
Swedish coach Tomas Monten agreed he’s seen better performances from Nylander in the tournament.
“I think that’s the best with those players, they know when they didn’t play their best game and they know they can be better, they’re going to be next game for sure,” said Monten. “It feels like he’s grown a lot. Before (the Slovak) game he was a player that can play in all situations: he plays on our power play, he plays on our PK. He can play in the offensive zone, the D-zone, last minute shifts – a player that can really contribute to everything.
“Not a great game (Tuesday), but he’s going to be back at it next game.”
Nylander is hoping Tuesday’s close game against the Slovaks will provide his team with the necessary wakeup call heading into today’s semi-final against the Americans.
“(The Slovaks) came out hard, they were doing really well with their fore-checking and they were getting pucks down low,” said Nylander. “We’ve just got to keep focusing on our own game, stick to the game plan and go from there.”
The Swedes’ success at the Under-20 tournament has been well-documented. They have not lost a game in the preliminary round dating back to the 2007 tournament, but have won just four of the past 10 semi-finals and just one gold medal (2012) in that time.
Despite the history, Monten doesn’t believe the past has anything to do with the group he’ll coach in semi-final game against the Americans.
“The thing is, you play better teams in the medal rounds than in the qualifying,” said Monten. “That’s the difference. I think last year we were a little bit unlucky, I still think we (played) a great game against the Russians, I think we were a lot better, but some years we just weren’t good enough, the other Top-3 teams were better. We’ll see this year, but the preliminary round is one thing, and playoffs is another.