Friberg tries to shed villain tag

Sweden forward Max Friberg (right) celebrates a goal against Finland with teammate John Klingberg...

Sweden forward Max Friberg (right) celebrates a goal against Finland with teammate John Klingberg during their World Junior Hockey Championship semifinal match in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 3, 2012. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:12 PM ET

CALGARY - Max Friberg exchanged his black hat for a white one.

The black one never fit that well anyway.

The soft-spoken Swede was never comfortable thrust into the role of the villain -- the same role Russian showboat Evgeni Kuznetsov thrives in.

"Is he the biggest villain now?" Friberg asked hopefully after Wednesday's workout.

"Well, that's good not to be the baddest. I don't like to be bad. I always like when people like me.

"This was nothing I asked for or wanted, for the crowd to be mad at me."

Friberg inadvertently drew the ire of the Saddledome crowd in Sweden's second game of the tournament, when he rode his stick past the Swiss bench after scoring a shootout goal.

The crowd booed loudly.

When the fans gave the same treatment to Kuznetsov, the Russian captain responded by cupping his hands to his ears. He relishes being hated in Canada.

Friberg appeared sincerely hurt when his celebration went over like a lead balloon.

He apologized repeatedly the following morning and vowed his stick-riding days were behind him.

It was suggested to him, sarcastically, that the Calgary fans love him.

"I don't know if they do," he said. "If they meet me in person I hope they would like me better."

A few nights later, he had the fans behind him as he led the Swedes back from a 3-0 third-period deficit to beat Russia 4-3 in overtime.

The Dome crowd will be solidly behind the Swedes during Thursday's gold-medal tilt with the Russians (6 p.m. MT, TSN).

"I think it's great we will have the crowd on our side," Friberg said. "I think they helped us a lot the first time we played Russia.

"The last 10 minutes they said 'Go Sweden Go' and I think we got a lot of energy from it.

"So I hope they will help us in the final."

Friberg has become the Swedish Jordan Eberle in this tournament.

Every time the Swedes have needed a big goal, the Anaheim Ducks prospect has delivered.

He had a hat-trick against Latvia and scored once and added the much-talked about shootout goal against the Swiss.

He had the game-winner in a romp over Slovakia and then forced overtime with 40 seconds to go against the Russians. Oh yeah, he also set up the overtime winner.

In Tuesday's semifinal, the Swedes needed another late comeback against Finland and Friberg again scored the equalizer with 1:44 left -- and then won it in the shootout.

If Sweden wins gold for the first time in more than three decades -- and perhaps even if they don't -- Friberg is an easy choice as tournament MVP.

All of this success is not something he's used to.

"I've only scored one goal this season," he said. "But I think the national team knows what I can do.

"It's confidence and much more icetime. I'm playing the powerplay and I feel they have confidence in me."

He's become a household name in a little over a week. He's even inspired others to copy 'The Friberg.'

When Finland's Joel Armia scored in the semifinal shootout loss to the Swedes, he celebrated by copying Friberg's celebration.

"I laughed a little bit and I told him 'great celebration' when we did the handshake," Friberg said. "And he laughed.

When asked to grade Armia's celebration, Friberg showed a sense of humour that hasn't waned throughout the tournament.

"They didn't boo him, so he must have done it better," he said. "I give him a 10."

He's been a 10 throughout the tournament.

scott.fisher@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNScottFisher


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