December 31, 2006. That was the last time Sweden had lost a game in the World Junior Championship preliminary round. That night, the United States’ Jack Johnson scored in overtime to down the Swedes.
Fast forward a decade and a half later, to December 30, 2020. The Swedes finally lose in the prelim round to the Russians and a Marat Khusnutdinov overtime goal.
Fifty-four consecutive preliminary wins over the course of three decades, and just like that it was over.
Russia had seemed to get on the board early when they had a goal waved off on the ice. Review showed goalie interference and the call on the ice stood: no goal.
But the Russians would not be denied. At the 7:28 mark of the first period, Yegor Afanasiev would score from Mikhail Abramov and Devils prospect Arseni Gritsyuk.
But the Swedes – who never had a lead all night – would get even when Noel Gunler threw a pass between Devils prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin’s legs to Arvid Costmar in front of the net. He scored to tie things at one apiece. Simon Holmstrom had the secondary assist.
Russia would get the lead back before the end of the first period when Rodion Amirov scored on the power play to make it 2-1.
The second period saw Sweden again playing catch-up.
This time it was Devils prospect Alexander Holtz to the rescue. After hitting the post midway through the frame, Holtz finally got on the board when he scored from Albin Sundsvik and Emil Andrae.
That would make things tied up at two going into the third.
Russia took the lead back when Kirill Kirsanov sniped a goal glove side on the power play. Holtz had taken a hooking penalty setting up the man advantage and Russia capitalized. Nine minutes and forty-six seconds into the final period, the Swedish streak seemed in danger for real.
Russia caught a break when a turnover allowed Costmar a clear shot at the net. He hit the crossbar.
But, inevitably, as they have done so many times, Sweden salvaged it. With goaltender Jesper Wallstedt pulled for the extra attacker, Holtz took a shot with a minute to go and it deflected into the net off Noel Gunler’s shinpad.
When regulation expired, it was off to overtime for the seventh time during the streak.
Sweden looked good throughout most of the extra session until, with less than thirty seconds to go, Costmar was called for holding a Russian attacker cutting in on net with speed.
It only took the Russians 19 seconds on the 4-on-3 advantage. Marat Khusnutdinov scored when Wallstedt could not control the rebound on a Amirov shot. It was over, with just 5.6 seconds to go, the Swedes had lost in the preliminary round at a World Juniors for the first time since George W. Bush was President of the US.
It was an evenly fought contest with the Russians hitting Wallstedt with 25 shots, him making 31 saves and Sweden peppering Yaroslav Askarov with 36 shots, 33 of which he was equal to.
Mukhamadullin had two shots on goal and was a minus-1 in 20:44 of TOI while Gritsyuk had the assist for a point and was an even plus/minus in 16:19 of ice time.
For Sweden, Holtz had a goal and a helper for two points, took two minor penalties for four PIMs and had seven shots and a plus-1 rating in 21:40 of ice time.
Tomorrow, in the final day of prelims at the 2021 World Juniors, the Czechs will face Austria, Canada will battle Finland and the Swedes will try to start a new streak against the United States. Tomorrow should wrap up both Groups A and B and we will see you here.
Also, the American Hockey League has announced a return to play that I would like to get to on here, so hopefully I can get that written tomorrow as well.
Have a Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!