The end of Sweden’s 31-year drought at the world junior championship was celebrated with frolic in the Senators’ dressing room late Thursday night.
Whooping it up after the spectacular overtime goal scored by Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad, of course, were his friends, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson.
“I sprayed water all over the cafeteria room in there,” Karlsson said Friday, nodding toward the “employes only” section of the room. “Didn’t have any champagne, so I had to take water. I was pretty excited.
“Me and Alfie did a victory dance, victory lap.”
Said Alfredsson: “We’ve been on the other side too many times in Sweden, so it’s nice to be on the top. Really happy for (Zibanejad). It was a beauty, too, so it’s going to be something that he’ll always have with him, for the rest of his career.”
During practice at Sensplex Friday morning, Karlsson watched with pleasure as Russian teammate Sergei Gonchar honoured a wager the two had on the outcome of the game. While Karlsson wore Zibanejad’s Senators’ practice jersey and No. 93 in tribute, Gonchar paid for Russia’s 1-0 loss by donning a yellow helmet, which was also adorned by the No. 93.
“The guy who lost had to wear a yellow helmet (Friday) and it was perfect with Zimba scoring the game-winning goal, his number’s on his helmet,” said Karlsson. “(Gonchar) left practice actually pretty fast. He probably wasn’t too happy about it.”
Zibanejad’s heroics Thursday in Calgary should give his confidence a huge boost. To say he’s become a national hero in Sweden is no exaggeration.
“It’s going to be on TV for a very long time and something he can look back on when he gets older,” said Karlsson.
“Everybody I know stayed up late (to watch) and it’s in the papers all the time. They’re making a big deal of it.”
“I think everybody is talking about him right now. I think he made a lot of Swedish people realize who we are and what kind of player he is.”
As of Friday afternoon, Zibanejad hadn’t returned Karlsson’s message. Understandable, Karlsson said.
“He probably got over a thousand texts, if I know him,” said Karlsson “He’s got a lot of friends. He hasn’t responded yet, but I think he’s still celebrating. He should be, by all means, the whole team should be.”
With his goal and two assists Thursday night, Alfredsson now has 31 points, matching his total in 2010-11, when he was limited to 54 games. Scoring 22 points in his last 18 games has him back on target to be a point-a-game player.
Not too shabby for a 39-year-old coming off back surgery, really.
“I’m playing with good players,” explained Alfredsson. “I started getting on a roll when I started playing with (Jason) Spezza. (Kyle Turris) Turry and (Erik) Condra, too, I think we’ve played pretty good. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy, and it always feels nice to contribute. It’s fun to be out there, that’s the most important thing.
Alfredsson’s goals remain team-oriented.
“You always hope just to feel good and play well,” he said. “The whole thing is to win your battles and create chances out there. If you do that, it’s fun to play. If the team is winning, it’s fun to play. That’s the biggest thing.
I’ll have a check mark next to both of those.”
THIS AND THAT
Turris’ goal and assist in the 4-1 victory over Tampa added to coach Paul MacLean’s belief that the Senators’ new second-line centre is someone he can tap on the shoulder in crucial situations. “The expectation for him was to come in and contribute, and he did that,” said MacLean, who pointed out that Turris had to play some catch-up in his conditioning after missing all of training camp while still with Phoenix. “He’s got a goal now and I believe five assists. The goal was a game-winning goal and three of the assists are game-winning assists. To me, those are tell-tale things that, when the game is on the line, he can contribute.”