Predictions for the first round of playoff action between top ‘07 teams
The Sweden Ice Hockey Federation’s under-16 youth hockey national tournament gets underway on Friday. It begins the first of a three-week process in a quest to determine who is the number one team in the country at the 2007 birth year.
This week, the first leg of the tournament will take place, in which 16 teams — divided into four groups of four — will compete in a three-game round robin. The top two teams from each group will advance to the second weekend of the tournament.
Here are the groupings and our picks for who should survive the first weekend of action:
Group A: Djurgårdens IF, MoDo Hockey, Nacka HK, Skellefteå AIK
No. 1 Nacka HK has been one of the most consistent clubs this season in Swedish youth hockey. They came out of the gates hot, securing silver at the 2022 Sweden Hockey Trophy in September and haven’t looked back. They handled MoDo Hockey in that tournament, and have fared well against big clubs like No. 3 Djurgårdens IF in group play. Ruben Westerling has been the most dynamic scorer for Nacka, tallying an even 16 goals and 16 assists in the final group play stage before playoffs. During the East Region playoffs, he added another six goals and nine points to help Nacka secure one of the final regional placements.
With a record of 14-3-1, Djurgårdens was one of two teams to earn automatic bids to nationals thanks to their excellent stretch of group play. A large factor to that success was the play in net of Ludvig Gromell. Suiting up in 11 contests, he went 9-2-0 with a 1.57 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and two shutouts. If he continues to put up numbers like that, Djurgårdens will have a deep run in the national tournament and will prove to be a difficult out for any team.
It would be the surprise of the tournament if anyone other than top-ranked Nacka and Djurgårdens came out of Group A.
Group B: IFK Täby HC, Luleå HF, Södertälje SK, Timrå IK
After finishing first in the Stockholm group, No. 2 IFK Täby HC earned an automatic placement into the national tournament. Producing a stellar 16-1-1 record, lone blemishes of their schedule were losses to Nacka and Djurgårdens. Able to rack up the score against any opponent, Täby’s roster contains the two top scorers of its group. Isac Nilsson (21G, 20A) and Theo Stockselius (17G, 24A) each recorded 41 points, with both averaging close to 2.5 points per game. Production that helped their club put up a plus-61 goal differential.
The other WHH Ranked team of this contingent is No. 5 Södertälje SK. Unlike Täby, Södertälje had to fight for its spot to nationals right up until the final day. They finished on the bubble of group play and didn’t earn a bid to the tournament until last Sunday. They lost to No. 8 Viggbyholms IK, but secured victories against Nacka and No. 7 SDE Hockey to qualify. Nils Håkansson (7G, 18A) and Daniel Lazienkiewicz (8G, 15A) will aim to continue their dependable offensive output for Södertälje to escape this batch of teams.
Täby is an obvious pick to advance out of Group B, being the highest ranked of the bunch. While Södertälje comes in highly ranked as well, it has some cracks in the armor and may not be as much of a lock. It may come down to Sunday’s game to determine SSK’s fate, but I like them to ‘survive and advance’ to next week.
Group C: Färjestad BK, IF Malmö Redhawks, Västerås IK, Växjö Lakers HC
Växjö Lakers HC faced off with IF Malmö Redhawks twice during the last installment of regular-season group play, sweeping them 8-2 and 5-3. Defenseman Liam Pettersson led all Lakers in scoring, piling up two goals and 12 points from the blue line. Across 24 games in group play since the start of the 2022-23 season, Pettersson has scored eight goals and 28 points. With Växjö’s performance over the Redhawks, and their 6-1-1 record against other group clubs, they have the skill to move on. It won’t hurt having Maximilian Olofsson, with his 10-4-0 record, 2.04 goals-against and .923 save percentage from regional play, in the crease either.
Färjestad BK at 20-4-4 and Västerås IK at 17-5-6 finished second and third in the West Region. The two teams clashed four times, each winning two. With the first three matchups ending in one goal, Färjestad opened up the offense in the final tilt with a 7-2 win. Malte Vass scored 11 goals and 37 points for Färjestad as a defenseman and the team’s leading scorer. Backing him up were Elias Eriksson (20G, 14A) and Filip Holgersson (12G, 22A). Even more impressive were the numbers Färjestad was able to put up despite going up against Västerås’ Måns Goos, the second best goalie of the region.
Växjö has already proved it can beat everyone in Group C, and there isn’t much evidence to believe this weekend will produce significantly different results. Their odds of being a top-2 team in this group of four are very high. The second spot may be decided by 9 p.m. CET, as Färjestad and Västerås open up the weekend against one another. I expect Färjestad’s top players to keep the offense rolling and claim the second spot.
Group D: Brynäs IF, Frölunda HC, HV 71, Örebro HK
Brynäs IF bested Örebro HK in their four-game regional season series, three games to one. In those matchups, Brynäs outscored Örebro 20-11. The name most often on scoresheets was Leo Sundqvist (30G, 21A), leading group scorer and top player for Brynäs. When you have the leading point scorer, it certainly doesn’t hurt when the top goaltender in the region wears Brynäs colors as well. William Forsberg backstopped his club to nine wins, compiling a 1.93 goals against, .913 save percentage and three shutouts.
In order to secure one of the final spots in the South Region, HV 71 went head-to-head against Karlskrona HK, sweeping them in two games. HV 71’s firepower was on full display, finding the back of the net 16 times while only allowing four. Frederik Balko collected two goals and seven points. Oscar Pöyliö tallied four goals and one assist for HV 71 as well. Going up against slightly stronger competition at the national tournament will be a tough test for HV 71, but if those two forwards continue their dynamic play, some upsets may be on the horizon.
None of the four teams in Group D are currently ranked, so competition for the two spots in the quarterfinal rounds are wide open. Between Brynäs top performers and the balanced attack of HV 71, I like these two teams to survive a very closely contested group.
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