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Sweden opens world junior tournament with win over Finland

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The Canadian Press
12/26/2008 10:07:42 PM
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OTTAWA - With Sweden and Finland sharing a long rivalry, it seemed only fitting that the two should meet on the opening day of the world junior hockey championship.

Thanks to a pair of first-period goals, Sweden was able to take a 3-1 win and bragging rights on Friday.

"It's always a battle against Finland," said Swedish forward Andre Petersson. "I think we did a pretty good job in the game."

Marcus Johansson, David Rundblad and Mikael Backlund scored for Sweden, while David Ullstrom had two assists. Jacob Markstrom was solid in goal stopping 21 shots.

Toni Rajala scored the lone goal for Finland and Harri Sateri faced 20 shots.

Sweden dominated the first 20 minutes, but failed to maintain the level of energy. If not for the goaltending of Markstrom the end result could have been different.

With six returning players from last year's silver-medal team, Sweden is considered a favourite, but players know a complete effort will be needed to make a run for gold.

"We had a good first period and then Finland really came out," said top prospect Victor Hedman. "We didn't play the full 60 minutes."

With Hedman being touted as a potential first overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft he knows his every move will be scrutinized.

"It's pressure, but the biggest pressure comes from myself," he said. "I can't focus (on the scouts). It's important for us to be a team and stay focused on the game."

It's easy to see why Hedman is considered a top prospect. He's a big, fluid defenceman who moves the puck well and isn't afraid to jump in offensively.

Hedman admitted he would have liked to jump into the play a bit more.

"It was a tight game and I'm a defenceman," said Hedman. "I have my responsibilities."

Fans at the Civic Centre were treated to a different style of play as the two teams were allowed to play for nearly four minutes before the first whistle.

A couple of mistakes from the Finnish defence then allowed Sweden to take control.

Johansson was allowed to come from behind the net uncontested and beat Sateri on the short side at 9:15 of the period. Just over four minutes later another breakdown resulted in a goal as Rundblad skated into the slot and scored on a wrist shot.

Rajala scored on a breakaway in the opening minutes of the second to cut the lead in half.

The second period featured a much more balanced game as both teams created a number of chances, but both goaltenders looked solid.

"We lost the game in the first period," said Sateri. "We played stupid in our zone and that was it. We played better hockey later on, but it was not our best."

With 59.7 seconds remaining in the second Sweden was given a two-man advantage for 96 seconds, but failed to generate any solid scoring chances.

After a mad scramble in the crease Sweden was awarded a penalty shot after it was ruled Sateri threw his stick.

Oscar Moller took the shot for Sweden, but failed on his attempt.

Both coaches admitted their teams might have been dealing with some nerves and excitement and are expecting a more solid effort from their respective players.

Mikael Backlund scored an empty-net goal for Sweden with 40.9 seconds remaining.

Sweden will next play Slovakia on Sunday while Finland will play Russia.

Viktor Ekbom and Teemu Hartikainen (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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