International Ice Hockey Federation

Winberg seeks the unexpected

Winberg seeks the unexpected

Sweden looking to shock the world, again

Published 06.02.2018 19:24 GMT+10 | Author John Sanful
Winberg seeks the unexpected
Swedish veteran Pernilla Winberg at the face-off dot against Czech forward Klara Hymlarova during the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Not so long ago, Pernilla Winberg was making her debut at 16 years old at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

Winberg would score the winning goal in a shootout against Team USA in the semi-finals to give Sweden a silver medal. It was one of the biggest upsets in women’s hockey and still a source of great pride for Winberg.

“The Olympics is the biggest thing you can ever experience in women’s hockey,” said Winberg. “We succeeded there and it was crazy and the best thing I’ve ever experienced in hockey. That feeling was unreal. That’s why I keep playing because I want to reach that goal again.”

Almost 12 years since that magical day, Winberg has faithfully represented Sweden in major hockey tournaments of every kind. She’s gone from impressive rookie to battle-tested veteran, yet remains amazed at how much time has passed.

“Thinking back, it has been so many years ago but I still feel like I’m the same age that I was then but it was so long ago,” Winberg said. “It’s a weird feeling to have been in that position before but it is something that I want to do again with the group I’m with now because that is the best experience.”

The biggest test was the Four Nations Cup in November in Florida with the top nations but Sweden finished fourth. Despite losing in overtime in their final game to Finland, they did play exceptional defence and their ability to kill penalties served them well until it caught up with them. Finland scored the game winner on the power play in the extra frame.

The tournament didn’t start out as they would have wanted. Travelling across the Atlantic was fraught with problems and they did not get in until the middle of the night before their opening game against Canada.

“It was tough because there wasn’t a whole lot of time to rest,” Winberg said. “It affected us but we can’t use that as an excuse. You have to use the best of what you’ve got out there and compete. That’s what we tried to do in this tournament.”

Still, this was a learning experience in being able to go up against the teams that will ultimately be in the mix when the first puck is dropped in PyeongChang.

“USA and Canada are the best teams in the world and it is good for us to play against them,’ Winberg said of the competition. “They play different than European teams so it is important for us to come over and play them to see how they develop and what type of hockey they play before we play them in the Olympics again.”

Hard to believe that since 2006, Winberg has played in three Olympics and headed to her fourth. Sweden is in a period of transition. They will be missing two of their key contributors in Jenni Asserholt and Emma Eliasson. Still, Winberg remains optimistic.

“Most of us played together at the last World Championships so we know each other pretty well,” she said. “This year I think we came together really well. I’m really excited for this team to get into the Olympics. I think we have a strong team. It is about taking it one game at a time. Anything can happen and we will do our best. We are going into South Korea and hoping to do something unexpected.”

During the season, Winberg plays professionally in Sweden. The SDHL is becoming a league that women are turning to and more foreigners are finding it to be an attractive option to pursue their playing career.

“It is a really good league to play,” said Winberg of the SHDL. “Our league is tough and good. We are getting a lot of foreigners now so we have some of the best players in the world from other nations. There is a good standard in the league and it is growing.”

Turning 29 during the Olympics, Winberg is not close to winding down. There is still a drive to play and to excel at the elite stage in the sport. But she acknowledges the need to pay it forward and offer support for those who need it in the same way others did for her when she joined the national team. That support would be to help her teammates locate their confidence and raise their competition levels.

“I try to help the younger kids and if they ever need anything I am there for them,” she said. “When you are excited for something you play your best. That’s what I did when I was 16 because I obviously wanted to be the best every time I stepped out on the ice. It is important to have that mentality.”

Another priority would be to continue growing the game in her native country. While women’s hockey has established an important foothold, there is always room to continue its development, something that motivates Winberg just as much as competing at next year’s Olympics.

“I love hockey that is why I am still playing hockey but if I get the chance I would want to help grow the game even more in Sweden and get more kids to play. We don’t have that many girls playing so whatever I can do to get more girls playing and help some kids out I would love to do that.”

 

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