The format of the World Hockey Championship, with two groups of eight teams each, means that countries of widely varying skill levels face off against each other at the tournament. Different countries have different goals at a tournament like this.
For countries like Canada, Sweden, and Russia, they’re playing to win gold. At the very least, they’re aiming for a medal. On the other hand, countries like Italy, Great Britain, and Austria are just happy to be in the top division of the World Championships.
Great Britain, for instance, is making their first appearance in the top division of the World Championships since 1994. Two years ago they were in Division 1B of the World Championships and had to finish first in the 2017 Division 1B championship to be promoted to Division 1A, then won the 2018 Division 1A championship to make it to this tournament.
The goal for a team like Great Britain is to try to win a couple games against other underdog teams and avoid elimination. Even staying in the top division would be an enormous victory for their hockey program. That means Great Britain is aiming at France in their group and maybe hoping to pull out an upset against Denmark, while just trying to survive against the top tier teams in their group like Canada, Finland, and USA.
That means it can be hard to judge an individual player’s performance when they’re facing lesser lights. Troy Stecher, for instance, picked up the first point of his career for Team Canada, tallying a second assist on a goal by Anthony Mantha that was set up beautifully by Jared McCann. That’s a cause for celebration.
Except it came in an 8-0 rout of Great Britain, making it hard to get too excited. It’s great to see Stecher get on the scoreboard in international play, but there’s a clear talent imbalance in that kind of matchup.
That brings us to Loui Eriksson.
Canucks fans are well aware how disappointing Eriksson has been in Vancouver. Jim Benning brought him in with the expectation that he’d consistently score 20 goals and be a veteran leader in their top-six forward group. Instead, Eriksson has struggled to put up points and found himself sliding down the lineup to the fourth line in a checking role.
Eriksson is disappointed too, as he made clear in an interview with Swedish media last week. He wants to be contributing offensively and showing that he still has the ability to put up points.
On Team Sweden, Eriksson is getting that opportunity. He’s playing on the third line at even-strength, but is on the first power play unit with Elias Pettersson.
Eriksson got held off the scoresheet in Sweden’s first game despite four shots on goal, and was a minus-3, though that was a matter of circumstances rather than any defensive lapses on his own part. In Sweden’s second game, however, Eriksson came through, tallying three points, all assists.
The only issue is that the three points came against Italy in an 8-0 drubbing.
How much do you make of that kind of performance? Probably not much.
Eriksson’s first assist was a secondary assist, making a nice touch pass in the neutral zone to aid a zone entry before his teammates combined for the goal. His second assist was also a secondary one, this time on the power play. He peeled off from the net front and moved the puck to Pettersson, who set up Patric Hornqvist on the doorstep.
Eriksson’s third assist, however, was a nice play. On an Italian power play, Eriksson picked off a centring pass and burst back the other way with Anton Lander for a 2-on-1. Eriksson went wide on defenceman Sean McMonagle, then backhanded a pass to Lander for the shorthanded goal.
Look, a three-point game against Italy isn’t much, but when it comes to Loui Eriksson at this point, we have to take what we can get.