Team Sweden Eyes Medal Round

JAY PEAK - With the Ice Hockey Women's World Championship just a couple days away, Sweden’s women’s hockey team is working hard. The team, housed at Jay Peak’s golf course condos, is getting prepared for the eight-team tournament that starts Saturday at UVM’s Gutterson field House. The tourney will feature the best eight women’s hockey teams on the planet.For Team Sweden, it’s another chance to keep building a program that has become a contender for the medal rounds over the last few years. The team is generally acknowledged as a top five club on the world ratings chart.The upcoming tournament gives “The Lady Crowns,” as they are nicknamed, a shot at going to the next level of elite women’s hockey.The Newport Daily Express got a chance to speak with two players with American connections; both attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Goaltender Kim Martin, now 26, is a graduate of the Minnesota school and plays professional hockey for a club in the Russian hockey league. Her focus at this point in time is the Swedish national team and where her team will end up. "I got started playing hockey by going against my older brother," Kim said. "I improved over the years and was recruited by the University of Minnesota, which offered me a scholarship. It was a good experience for me. My English was good before I attended the school but now it is much better.”Her English is perfect and her career has been a good one. "My family has been very happy about my being a hockey player," she continued. "In fact, my parents travel around the world to watch me play and will be there in Burlington this weekend. I want to play as long as I can. On this team, I am the fourth oldest. I have put 12 years into our national teams and it has been a great experience.”Being a goalie is a tough job and Kim has paid the price. “I have been injured many times playing the game I love," she said. "I have had knee surgeries and always have an injury of some sort. You learn to play the game with injuries.”Sweden has emerged over the past few seasons as a team to take seriously and Martin can see the difference."The leagues in Sweden have become much better. Instead of two good teams, now there are seven or eight. More girls are playing the game and are starting younger. The country is just taking it a lot more seriously.”Pernilla Winberg, the 23-year-old left wing, is a senior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She has a history of being a big time goal scorer and one goal in particularly is very special. "In 2006 we played the U.S. team for the silver," she recalled. "The game went to a shootout and I was able to score the winner. That was really exciting."Pinella has played ten years in the Swedish program and counts on playing a lot more hockey for her country. “We are getting better and to be better we need to play the best, like Canada and the U.S.”Sweden’s head coach is Niclas Hogberg. Hogberg has coached hockey and soccer for over 20 years. He coached men’s teams for most of that time before switching to the women’s teams. He has been the Sweden head man for two years now. "As far as coaching men or woman, I’m always asked about that," he said. "The thing is, hockey is hockey. The system we teach is the same for male or female. We try to play aggressively and attack, not just sit back and defend.”Hogberg has played and coached at many hockey facilities and he is impressed with the one at Jay Peak. “We arrived here late at night so we couldn’t see the ice of the buildings. The next morning, when I got up, I was shocked at how beautiful and new everything was. It’s an unbelievable facility in a beautiful area. We can train and skate and have meals and lodging all within walking distance. It allows us to focus on hockey and not worry about the other things like travel and meals and the other distracting elements. It reminds me of places at home.”The coach sees the progress his country is making and his job is 12 months a year. “There really is no off season. More kids are getting a chance to play early and they play more games against top level competition and that is a big difference. When in the past we have tried to stay close to teams, now we are aggressive and play for the win. We don’t come to tournaments to just show up; we play to win a medal."With renewed energy and positive spirit, Sweden heads to the World Championship with confidence. Tonight at Jay, they look to improve and learn as they scrimmage against the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal Canadian team.The contest is open to the public and will commence at 6 p.m. at the Jay Haus Arena