The area around Sergels Torg, a plaza in downtown Stockholm, is undergoing a facelift and is surrounded by a construction site. On a regular day, the re-directed traffic and temporary sidewalks are a nuisance, but Monday was no regular day.
Monday was the day when Tre Kronor, the nation’s beloved hockey team, returned home from the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, as world champions and suddenly, thousands of people found room on and around the square that is about the size of a hockey rink.
“I’ve been here (as a fan) myself when I was younger, celebrated the championship teams, and it’s wild to be standing here now. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said John Klingberg.
Sergels Torg, “Sergel’s Square”, is where Stockholmers meet. That’s where they have demonstrations, that’s where tens of thousands Stockholmers held a Love Manifestation about six weeks ago, after a terror attack, and that’s where the sports heroes come to meet the nation. Bathing in the nearby fountain has become a part of the capital’s vernacular.
On the other hand, while Tre Kronor did celebrate their World Championship there in 1998, in 2006, the fans met their Olympic gold medal team in freezing cold on the south side of town, and in 2013, the Sedins showed off the trophy in Kungstradgarden, a park two blocks from Sergels Torg, which had been deemed too small and compact for such events.
But this time, they were back to celebrate the nation’s tenth World Championship. While the hockey family certainly is growing, and while there is increased parity in the top division of the World Championship, Sweden now joined a select group of countries whose Worlds gold medals count in double-digits.
The Big Four with ten gold medals or more are Russia (including the Soviet Union) with 27 titles, Canada 26, the Czech Republic (including Czechoslovakia) 12, and now Sweden, with ten. Next on the list are Finland and USA, both with 2 titles.
The team’s plane from Cologne was delayed so the team missed their airport press conference, but not their meeting at the Royal Palace. King and Queen were in Indonesia on a state visit, or as Anton Stralman put it: “The King wasn’t at home, but we got to meet some other members of the family.”
Stralman, who told Swedish media before the final that he had never won anything in his career, including in minor hockey, was greeted with huge applause when it was his turn to hoist the trophy.
“I’m not the biggest loser anymore,” he said after the final.
But, while no player ever wins a title on his own, and while every player on the Swedish team, to a man, talked about the strength of the team and what a “great group of guys” they had together, some got a little more attention than others, and they came in pairs.
Two of them were Nicklas Backstrom, who was credited with the golden goal, and William Nylander, the tournament MVP, who once again recapped their story of how Backstrom spent a lot of time at the Nylander house as an NHL rookie, playing ping-pong with Willie, while teammates with his father, Michael.
“It actually did occur to me that I won my first World Championship as an 18-year-old in Riga in 2006 with Michael, and now my second with his son,” he said.
And in Nylander, the baby-faced hero, Swedish hockey fans have their latest teen idol.
The biggest cheers were reserved to the twins from Gothenburg, the Lundqvist brothers. Henrik Lundqvist, the King, joined the team late and played only five of the ten games, but posted a tournament-best 94.57 save percentage and also shut out Canada in the shootout while Joel Lundqvist was the captain of the team.
It was the first time the brothers played in a World Championship together, and for Henrik, it was his first World Championship gold medal. After the final Joel welcomed his twin brother “to the [champions’] club” while becoming the fourth Sweden to have won three gold medals, together with Sven Tumba, Mats Sundin, and Jonas Bergqvist.
“It’s been a fantastic two weeks with these guys, and to feel the support from home, too,” said Henrik.
“Naturally, this championship is special to me, it’s always been my dream to get to win a title together with Henrik,” said Joel.
Just before the team took the stage, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said a few words to the crowd, recapping his emotions when Lundqvist stopped the last Canadian shot.
“I think the entire country erupted and it was heard all the way in Canada,” he said.
That was a metaphor, although the celebrations from Sergels Torg were surely heard inside the Canadian Embassy, located in a building next to the square.
If Canadians were upset by the loss, it didn’t show. The Maple Leaf was still flying at full mast.
First published on IIHF.com. May 2017.