Kings of the garden

STOCKHOLM – Barely had the confetti landed on the ice in Copenhagen – and barely had Hampus Lindholm thrown himself on the ice to make confetti ice angels – when the Swedish players and coaching staff started to talk dreamily about getting back to Stockholm to greet the fans.

Public celebration of a championship is an integral part of the championship team’s journey. While Team Sweden has had the opportunity to celebrate hockey championship several times in the last twenty years, the parade hasn’t always taken the same route.

In 1998, when Peter and Kent Forsberg danced at Sergels torg, and in 2006, the Olympic gold medalists met the people at Medborgarplatsen and the world champions in Kungsträdgården, the King’s Garden. In 2013, the Sedins brought the trophy to Kungsträdgården, but last year, the champs were back at Sergels torg.

No matter where the parade is held, though, one thing is guaranteed. If you win it, they will come and on Monday, May 21, 2018 – five years to the day after the 2013 parade – they all came. The short and the tall, old and young, business men and women in smart suits and the millennials in summer dresses and shorts. The cafés lining the park avenue were filled with people who enjoyed the warm spring weather and refreshments as thousands gathered to watch the hockey heroes take the stage, full of happiness and joy, as the crowd took turns in singing the national anthem, and the team’s goal song.

Team captain Mikael Backlund hoisted the World championship trophy from the Kungsträdgården stage as the new kings of the garden came out to greet the people and to thank them for their support.

“The trophy is pretty heavy so things got sweaty at the airport,” he said when asked about it.

“This is a fantastic group. The team showed unbelievable character and morale, we gave this everything we’ve got from day one,” he added.

Last time Mika Zibanejad was on the Kungsträdgården stage as the overtime hero of the World Juniors team in 2012, it was freezing cold. This time, it was about 35 degrees warmer outside.

Zibanejad got big cheers from the crowd for being a Stockholm native of Stockholm, just like his linemates Mattias Janmark and Rickard Rakell, who is from Sollentuna, a suburb just north of Stocholm. Zibanejad’s cheers got even louder when he told people what he was going to do with the gold medal bonus he’s going to receive from the federation.

“I’ll donate it to youth hockey in Stockholm,” he said, and then gave the crowd a taste of his other talents, as he burst into a Zlatan Ibrahimovic impersonation.

“There are two Zs in Sweden now,” he said, with a huge grin on his face.

While Sweden had 13 players who made their World Championship debut in Copenhagen, three players on the team – John Klingberg, Dennis Everberg, and Oliver Ekman Larsson – got to win the gold two years in a row.

Also, assistant coach Johan Garpenlov became the first Swede to have won back-to-back World Championship gold medals both as a player and a coach as he played on the 1991 and 1992 teams.

Besides players and coaches, there was another hero on the stage, one that had been on all the stages all over town in the last twenty years as equipment manager Anders Weiderstål celebrated his eighth World championship gold. He began his career at Tre Kronor in 1984, and announced earlier this year that he’d step down after the season.

“Working with young kids like these is good for an old man like myself,” he said as he addressed the crowd, uncharacteristically in a suit.

“We’ve worked hard together. The coaches work hard and the players are dedicated to the cause. Nobody ever complains because hockey is the best thing they know – which is inspiring to the rest of us on the staff,” he said.

And, obviously, the rest of us.

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