The Swedish men’s hockey team just barely squeaked by Germany this morning, riding an early goal from Victor Stahlberg to win 1-0 despite getting outshot 28-26. Two games into the Olympics, that win plus a 4-0 defeat of Norway in their opening game suggest that things are going smoothly. They aren’t.
Instead, things are really confusing. The most notable story out of Sweden’s first two games is coach Rikard Grönborg’s refusal to give ice time to Rasmus Dahlin, the next NHL draft’s projected number-one pick. The 17-year-old Dahlin was a healthy scratch in game one, and his 4:36 of ice time was the least of anyone on either team against Germany. What the hell? After the first game, this was what Dahlin’s coach offered.
That explanation makes sense at a normal Olympics, where full-grown NHL players are battling it out and Dahlin probably couldn’t even crack the Swedish roster. Maybe it even makes sense against Russia or Canada, the top teams in the tournament. But it’s extremely frustrating in these games, which don’t feature any NHL players at all. I won’t pretend to have seen more of Rasmus Dahlin than his own national team coach, but it’s clear from both Swedish league game footage and last month’s World Juniors (where Dahlin was the best player) that the kid is not some raw, long-term project. At the level of his homeland’s league—which about matches the talents of Norway’s and Germany’s rosters—Dahlin can control the flow of a game and make his elders look silly. Check this shit out:
Don’t you want to see more of that? Again, I’m not in the Swedish locker room and won’t pretend to know something the coach doesn’t. But holding Dahlin out feels less like a decision relating to his talent and more of a stubborn commitment to the natural order of the sport, which dictates that a 17-year-old shouldn’t get to jump ahead of vets who have waited whole careers for an Olympic opportunity. There’s something noble in that, perhaps, but also that’s not why we’re watching these Olympics. We’re watching to catch a glimpse of the future, and Sweden is presumably playing to win. Play the dang kid!