Mikael Backlund goes to Worlds: Sweden vs. Canada

The Canadian-Swedish quarterfinals matchup at the 2016 IIHF World Championships ended up being not much of a matchup at all. After a close first 20 minutes, late addition Andre Burakovsky went off for a checking to the head penalty – and by the time he came back, the game was well out of hand.

Canada easily advances to the semifinals with a 6-0 win over Team Sweden. They’ll face Team USA for the right to defend their gold medal on Saturday, May 21.

Though Canada controlled most of the play through the first period, it still took 18:39 for them to open the scoring – and with somewhat of a chance goal, at that. Jacob Markstrom stopped all their golden chances, but it was a shot from Ryan O’Reilly ultimately deflecting off the tip of Mark Scheifele’s stick – which just so happened to be in the right place at the right time – that finally got them on the board.

Sweden was outshot 12-6 in that first frame, but down just one goal, there was plenty of opportunity for them to come back. Not quite the case, however, as Burakovsky picked up a two-minute minor for checking to the head – a powerplay that Matt Dumba capitalized on – but was left sitting in the box for a 10-minute misconduct as well.

Over that time, the Canadians got the game out of reach. Brad Marchand made it 3-0, so Swedish coach Par Marts countered by calling a timeout to try to settle down his team. The Canadians responded by making it 4-0 courtesy of Sam Reinhart and Max Domi 11 seconds later.

Though Canada looked to have the victory in the bag, neither team sat back for the third period. Back-to-back penalties saw Brendan Gallagher and Morgan Rielly in the box, giving the Swedes an extended five-on-three – that became a six-on-three when they pulled Markstrom. They failed to score, however; Markstrom went back in, and two more quick goals by Mark Stone and Derick Brassard officially put an end to things.

Canada outshot Sweden 34-24, outscored them 6-0, and earned full marks in their dominating win. Up next: the Americans.

Mikael Backlund’s final game

Two years ago, when Mikael Backlund last played at the World Championships, he helped Sweden to a bronze medal. While he was once again a leader this year, this year’s roster couldn’t get it done.

Backlund played 21:01 – fourth overall in Swedish ice time, and once again, the only forward to play more than 20 minutes for his team. Par Marts leaned extremely heavily on Backlund throughout the entire tournament, as he went only one game without at least 20 minutes in ice time. 

Though he had three shots on net, including possibly Sweden’s best chance to get on the board in the third period, Backlund finished his tournament on a four-game pointless streak. He was on the ice for four of Team Canada’s goals, an uncharacteristic amount for him considering how his overall tournament has gone.

Still, after every IIHF game, someone from each team has to be named the player of the game, and Backlund was that player for Sweden. It’s only fair to him: when you’re leaned on that heavily, you’ve clearly done something right. Nobody on Sweden was scoring, and while he wasn’t their top offensive player, he was still a significant contributor on both sides of the puck. 

But there’s only so much you can ask from one guy.

If we want to continue this streak of fairness, though, then Backlund should have done more than enough this tournament to prove he deserves a spot on Sweden’s World Cup roster. He showed he was a defensively responsible guy who could play in all situations, eat a ton of minutes, and occasionally chip in with points. Not one of the best on a really, really good team – but a leader with a letter who can handle top competition. Exactly what he is with the Flames, sans the letter.

Despite the disappointing finish, he had a good tournament overall.