International Ice Hockey Federation

Winberg is all in

Winberg is all in

Three-time Olympian hopes for home-ice success

Published 07.03.2015 18:03 GMT+1 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Winberg is all in
Malmo-born Pernilla Winberg (left) with her teammate Elin Holmlov (right) during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will be held in Malmo, Sweden, and that’s a unique opportunity for Pernilla Winberg.

It’s the 25-year-old forward’s hometown. If she can help Sweden win a medal at this tournament held from 28 March o 4 April, it’ll be her biggest accomplishment since scoring the game-winning shootout goal against the Americans in the 2006 Olympic semi-finals. That stunning 3-2 upset, which led to a silver medal in Turin, remains the high-water mark in Swedish women’s hockey history.

Winberg played in several international tournaments leading up to Malmo. At a Four Nations tournament on home in Uppsala in December, the Swedes came third, behind Russia and Finland but Sweden took first place in the Euro Hockey Tour in Finland earlier this month.

In November Sweden competed with the top nations at the Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, Canada, the Women’s Worlds host in a year. There Winberg told how much she relishes the prospect of suiting up at the Malmo Isstadion: “It’s going to be awesome. Actually to be at home, that’s going to be really cool. It’ll be a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like we have a good team.”

It won’t be easy to earn some hardware. Damkronorna haven’t won a Women’s World Championship medal in a long time. Their last one was bronze in Winnipeg 2007.

Despite the efforts of quality netminders like Kim Martin Hasson and Valentina Wallner, Sweden has also finished fourth at the last two Olympics. Winberg led the team in scoring with seven points in Sochi.

Winberg reflected on her team’s overall performance at the 2014 Olympics, where Switzerland rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Sweden 4-3 in the bronze medal game: “We came as underdogs. No one thought we were going to do well. Then we actually eliminated Finland, which was [expected] to compete against Canada or the U.S. in the semi-finals. So I think we played really well. But the last period in Sochi did not go as expected. I’ll take that with me, and we’ll need to be more mentally prepared as a team. We need to work on that, because it can happen again, and we don’t want to stand there in fourth place again.”

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In Kamloops, Sweden nearly suffered the ignominious fate of going through the entire Four Nations Cup without scoring a goal, but managed to tie it up at 1-1 late in the bronze medal game against Finland. Then captain Jenni Asserholt scored the overtime winner to give coach Leif Boork’s troops a happy ending.

Winberg is a fan of Boork. The outspoken 65-year-old Stockholm native served as an assistant coach at the Olympics, but has decades of experiences in international and pro hockey. Not only has Boork coached such well-known Swedish clubs as Djurgarden, Frolunda, MODO, and Brynas, but he also led Sweden to the 1984 Canada Cup final and stood behind the Norwegian national team's bench from 1997 to 2001.

“He’s a really smart coach,” Winberg said. “He’s been coaching in the men’s league and with the men’s national team, so obviously he will give us a lot of experience. He uses his system really well and he knows what to do to beat other teams. He’s done it before. He knows what the next step will be for us.”

The crucial next step for the Swedes – not to mention other medal contenders like the Finns, Russians, and Swiss – is to narrow the competitive gap between themselves and the North American superpowers. What are the key advantages that defending Olympic champion Canada and the United States have over their European opponents?

“I feel like they have more speed and quicker passes,” said Winberg. “It might be because we don’t have as fast of a game in Sweden. It’s good for us to come over [to Canada] and play more games and have faster speed. That’s how you get better, playing against good teams. In the future, I feel like we’re going to play more games like that and get closer to the U.S. and Canada.”

It goes without saying that a huge collective effort will be required. Sweden has just 3,434 registered female players, compared to 86,612 in Canada and 67,230 in the United States.

Aiming to nurture the next generation of blue-and-yellow talent, Winberg is applying the “pay it forward” philosophy, working with younger girls at camps like October’s Legacy Global Sports skills camp in Nykoping.

Winberg and her teammates recently teamed up with up-and-coming pop star Mahan Moin to record backing vocals for the official Women’s World Championship song, The World Is Mine. If the Swedes thrill their fans with a medal victory on April 4, the entire host country will be singing.


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