STOCKHOLM – Many leagues around Europe are taking their final international break of the regular season before their respective competitions move into the push towards the playoffs.
The break includes the Euro Hockey Tour with match ups between Sweden and Finland and Czech Republic and Russia. The Slovakia Cup will also be played which will involves, of course, Slovakia as the host nation, Belarus and Switzerland. Also this week, the Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 will take place in Italy, Hungary and Japan which will consist of 12 nations fighting for a place in the Final Olympic Qualification for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Korea.
For the nations that have already qualified to the final stages of Olympics, it is a time to look towards the future and take up the opportunity to blood their young prospects with national team experience, giving them a chance to find their feet in the highest level of international hockey.
Sweden and Ottawa Senators prospect Andreas Englund, who captained his country in the recent 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, will get his chance to slip on the Tre Kronor jersey, joining the men for the first time when they go up against old rivals, Finland, in the two-game series in Orebro and Stockholm on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
“It is going to be an extremely proud moment for me. I am really excited to play with the big guys and it is going to be lots of fun,” says an ecstatic Andreas Englund to IIHF.com.
Englund, 20 years old, has been on the radar of national team coach Par Marts for quite some time, and the defensive defenceman’s individual performance at the World Junior Championship in Finland during the festive season was enough to force his way in to the men’s team. Although Sweden’s performance in the playoff round was under par to the team’s goals and standards, Englund’s personal presentation throughout the entire tournament exuberated maturity beyond his years, showing calmness and stability at the back, that helped his team outperform all other nations in the group stage of the championships.
“I think I did a pretty good tournament, but we didn’t manage to do as great as a team. Everybody could have done a little bit better,” explains Englund. “Overall I think I did a pretty good tournament and the team did as well, especially in the preliminary round.”
The Djurgarden Stockholm defenceman has been on a steep incline in his development curve over the last 18 months, while playing in his second full season in the Swedish Hockey League. Djurgarden coach Hans Sarkijarvi is not surprised at all by Englund’s selection in the men’s national team and says that it is a credit to his mental strength that he has been able to improve his game up to the senior level.
“He has taken enormous steps the last few years. He began as a junior in Allsvenskan and has had fantastic development,” says Coach Sarkijarvi on Englund’s progress to CMore. “He works serious and hard. He does everything to the maximum that he can do, if that is training, match preparation and during the game. He is very diligent and he will be as good as he can be.”
“I think that it is something I have had my whole life and it is just a part of who I am,” says Englund. “It is just something that I have had for a long time. It has just been one of my big strengths, working hard on and off the ice and it is a big part of my game.”
Englund’s strong will and work ethic is something that he has displayed throughout his whole junior career. His commitment to training and his constant one hundred per cent effort, both on and off the ice magnifies his finest qualities, which naturally makes him a leader in whichever team he plays in. At the age of just 19 at the beginning of this season and only his second full year in Djurgarden’s senior team, Englund was given the honour of assistant captain after having a similar role in Djurgarden and Swedish national junior teams.
“I just try to be myself and I just play my game. I try to take some part in the locker room but I think my best leadership skills are on the ice, trying to show how I want to play and give my best for the team and lead by example.”
Englund’s stature of 191 cm and 90 kg certainly makes him a solid figure at the back, and his composure to make a good first pass out of his own zone has been a quality that has been a part of his repertoire throughout his career. What has improved in recent times is the mobility of his fairly big frame, which has created more time against the fore-check and enabled him to move the puck more effectively, something that the coaches in Djurgarden and Ottawa Senators staff have been helping him to understand and continually develop.
“I obviously need to develop every aspect of my game to take me to the next level,” says Englund. “Having quick feet and making myself a mobile D-man, even though I am big, and not getting stuck in the corners and stuff is important. I think especially keeping my speed in my feet so I can keep being strong and not lose battles in the corners.”
“The D coach in Djurgarden, Stefan Nyman, has helped me a lot in the last month getting in to the senior and pro level. I think that is one person that has helped me a lot and I am extremely thankful for that.”
After this week’s national team assignment, Andreas Englund will have taken the next step on what inevitably seems to be a path towards North America and the NHL. He is the Ottawa Senators number one European prospect at the moment and will no doubt be making his way over the Atlantic later this year at some stage whether that is joining the Sens’ after his season in Europe or at least participating in the NHL prospect camp during the summer.