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'(Posted 3 p.m., April 11)
Visiting Swedes down Jr. Grads in entertaining match-up
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Members of the Söderhamn-Ljusne Hockey Club and the Cumberland Jr. Grads Major Midget AA team get together for a group photo following their exhibition game Saturday night which Söderhamn won 5-3. Fred Sherwin/Photo


The Ray Friel Centre was the scene of an international hockey exchange on Friday night as a team from Söderhamn, Sweden took on the Cumberland Jr. Grads Major Midget AA squad in the first of two exhibition games against Cumberland area teams.

A quick scan of the Swedish line-up would indicate that the Jr. Grads would be in tough against their visiting opponents. The team representing the Söderhamn-Ljusne Hockey Club has no fewer than seven players born in 1990 and two '89s on it, while half of the Jr. Grads team were born in '92.

Despite the game being billed as a friendly match-up between the two teams, Söderhamn-Ljusne came out loaded for bear, throwing their bodies around at will and laying several monstrous hits against the Jr. Grads.

For the first few minutes the Cumberland players dished out as much punishment as the took, but then the game settled into a tight checking affair with neither team able to mount much offence until the 2:06 mark of the first period when Fredrik Persson took a pass from Hampus Malm in front of the Jr. Grads net and fired a quick shot past goalie Alexis Lamontagne.

The level of play picked up in the second stanza, but it wasn't until the midway point of the period after both teams had swtiched their goaltenders that the Swedish team pounced for two quick goals.

The first came just 13 seconds after Martin Parent had replaced Desjardins. Fredrik Wallström was flying down the near boards and was turning into the centre of the ice when he tried to headman the puck to a teammate just as he was about to cross the Jr. Grads' blueline. The player missed the pass, but Wallström picked up the puck inside the Cumberland end and then turned and fired a shot that beat Parent high glove side.

The Swedes' third goal came 12 seconds later when Malm banged home a loose puck in the Jr. Grads' crease on a play in which Cumberland's defence was clearly out of sorts.

Down 3-0 at that point, the Jr. Grads mounted a comeback scoring three goals in the remaining eight minutes and 33 seconds period, led by David Labelle who set up the first goal by Steven Masterson; scored the second goal on a pass from Michael Desjardins; and then helped set up the tying goal by Michel Paquette with only nine seconds to go in the period.

The Swedish players' superior skills were evident in the third stanza as they began to pour it on. The Swedes had a great chance early in the period during a scramble in front of the Jr. Grads net, but Masterson managed to get a piece of the puck while covering for Parent, who was taken out of position on the play. The puck deflected off Masterson and then ricocheted off the left post and out of harm's way.

As the third period began to unfold it became evident the Swedes were keeping one player circling around the neutral zone in anticiptation of a breakout pass that might catch the Jr. Grads off guard.

The strategy worked to perfection during a penalty kill when Persson took a lead pass from Malm and streaked in on Parent. Nicholas Ziebell tried to catch up to Persson from behind and briefly lifted his stick, but the Swedish player egained control of the puck and lifted a quick backhand over Parent's right pad.

The Swedes got an insurance marker with 2:17 left in the game when Alexandre Grundström scored a power play goal moments after Parent made a huge save with his right pad. The visitors then added an empty net goal with 6.3 seconds left on the clock for the 5-3 win.

After the game, Jr. Grads captain Jeremie Maisonneuve said the Swedes physicality in the first period caught them a little off guard, but it was their skill with the puck and especially their hand skills that impressed them the most.

"For sure they're a very good team. They're very good skaters and they have a lot of hand skill," said Maisonneuve.

The Swedish team arrived in Ottawa on Tuesday and played the Ottawa Sting Midget Rep B team on Wednesday which they won 4-2. They then went to see the Ottawa Sentors beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.

For all but one of the players this is their first trip to North America. For goalie Robin Jacobsen this is a homecoming of sorts. The Swedish born player lived in Cumberland for a number of years and played House League hockey with the Cumberland Minor Hockey Association. His father Mikael Jacobsen organized the trip.

Söderhamn captain Marcus Gard, says the team has been looking forward to the trip for months. Asked what the highlight has been so far, he quickly answered the hockey.

"We're 2-0 with one game left. It's been very good and a lot of fun. I'm glad we came," Gard said in excellent English.

While getting to test their skills against Canadian competition has been the highlight of the trip so far, getting tho see their first NHL game live and in person has been a close second.

"It was very exciting and very powerful. We couldn't believe there were so many people," said Gard.

They team will wrap up their trip on Tuesday night with a game against the Cumberland Bandits Junior C team. The game will be preceded by a special ceremony attended by Swedish Ambassador Ingrid Iremark and city councillors Bob Monette, Rob Jellett and Rainer Bloess.

Individual tickets to the game are $6 each, although tickets purchased for Saturday's game against the Jr, Grads are also redeemable at the door.

'(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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