Friday, 24 January 2014

Pernilla Winberg's 200th career game for Sweden sets positive tone for Sochi

Heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the Swedish national women’s team has strong momentum. Prior to Christmas 2013, legendary Swedish forward Pernilla Winberg participated in her 200th career game in the famous gold and blue Swedish jersey. The 200th game for Sweden sets the stage for what hopes to be an even more improved 2014.

Along with Kim Martin, Winberg is one of the most recognizable and famous faces from the Swedish team. After a disappointing seventh place finish at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa, Canada, where Sweden played in the relegation round, Winberg’s milestone game could not have come at a better time.

The magical milestone occurred during Sweden’s participation in a 4-nations tournament in Orebro from December 11-15, 2013. Competing against other European nations that shall take part in Sochi 2014, including Russia, Germany and arch-rival Finland, Winberg helped Sweden to a second-place finish. 

Depsite a 3-2 loss in overtime to Finland to end the tournament, Winberg was recognized as player of the game for Sweden.  In addition, Swedish goaltender Valentina Wallner participated in her 100th international contest. 

For Winberg, the milestone game helped to bookend a year of several personal milestones. Having graduated from the famed University of Minnesota-Duluth program in 2013, where she played for legendary coach Shannon Miller, she finished her stellar NCAA career with over 100 points. Ironically, Miller was a mentor coach for Russia at the 2013 Women’s Worlds.

Obtaining the values of leadership and teamwork from Miller, it has not only improved Winberg’s already impressive game, but transformed her into a true All-World player. Of note, her final assist in NCAA play with the Bulldogs came on January 25 versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. The final goal (and point) of her NCAA career came on February 10 against the MSU-Mankato Mavericks. 

Other former Bulldogs that shall represent Sweden at the Games include a healthy Kim Martin, appearing on her fourth team and reliable defender Elin Holmlov. As Sweden is one of the youngest teams on the world stage, Winberg, who is not yet 25, is considered one of Sweden’s veterans. 

Hardcore fans will remember that the 2006 Torino Winter Games was her coming-out party, as her game-winning goal against the United States comprised the biggest upset in the history of the sport. At Vancouver 2010, Winberg registered five goals in a fourth place finish for the blue and gold.

With Winberg is on the ice for Sweden at Sochi, she brings an air of confidence to a team that is entering the world’s biggest hockey tournament as an underdog. Although injuries played a significant role in Sweden’s performance in Ottawa, Sochi represents the beginning of a new chapter.

Having continuously proven in her storied career that she is capable of making the big play, the thought of Sweden flying under the radar and sneaking their way into the bronze medal game would come as no surprise. As the consummate professional, her business-like approach and dedication to the game is testament to the continuous improvement of women’s hockey in Europe. 

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