Soderstrom doesn’t worry about Finns' hot line
Against Team USA in Sweden’s second game of the tournament he had to make 46 saves to post a shutout, in their quarter-final against Slovakia, 17 was enough, and there was never any doubt who would win the game. In the semi-final, Soderstrom will face the tournament’s hottest line, Finland’s Jesse Puljujarvi – Sebastian Aho – Patrik Laine, that has compiled 37 points in five games in the tournament.
All three are in Top 4 in tournament scoring, Puljujarvi leading all players with his 15 points in 5 games (or one per period).
Soderstrom says he hasn’t scouted the trio in any way. Not yet anyway.
“I guess we’ll go through our usual scouting reports, but I played against Aho and Puljujarvi at the World Juniors last season. I don’t know anything about Laine, I’ve seen clips on TV but that’s about it,” he told media after their skate on Sunday.
“Of course it’s good to be aware of the opponent, but I’ll just go through my usual routines, and our usual scouting for their strengths and weaknesses that we can exploit,” he added.
His teammates are high on their goalie.
“He’s been fantastic, it’s a good feeling to have a solid goaltender in the net, and it makes my game easier,” said defenceman William Lagesson.
While the Finns see the game as a case of their firepower against the hottest goalie in the tournament, Soderstrom tries to downplay his role.
“It’s Sweden versus Finland out there, and we have to play defensively solid game and offensively like we’ve done all through the tournament,” he said.
And he’s got a point. It’s not like Sweden has had trouble scoring goals. Their 25 goals in five games is tied for the second in the tournament, behind Finland’s 29. At the same, Finland’s goals-against average is 3.62, Sweden’s 1.00. Finland’s power-play percentage a phenomenal 45.5, while Sweden’s is a more normal, but still good, 26.9, and they will take on the team with the lowest penalty-kill percentage of the final four. Finland’s seven goals against while shorthanded is most in the tournament (63.16%).
“They have a great power play, that we do know, and we have to be aware of who’s on the other side,” Soderstrom said.
He was on the Swedish World Juniors team last year as well, together with 11 other players, and will look to those memories to make sure he’ll be ready to play in the semi-final.
“Being in the tournament last year was very valuable, even though losing a bronze medal game was a disappointment. Now I know what works and what doesn’t. The game against Russia was frustrating last year, but they were the better team. Our loss to Slovakia was completely unacceptable, [but] we had just run out of energy,” he said.
Two years ago, Teuvo Teravainen and Rasmus Ristolainen, both now NHL regulars, led Finland to World Junior gold in Malmo, Sweden, and this Swedish team wouldn’t mind returning the favour at Hartwall Arena, and send the hosts to the bronze game.
“It’s going to be a huge game in a sold-out arena, and I’m sure it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I think it was good for us to play that one game against Canada here so we got a little taste of what it’s like to play in front of a loud crowd,” he said.
“And even more importantly, I think it’s good that so many of us played in the Toronto tournament last year. But, it’ll be the biggest game of my career... so far.”
A few weeks prior to the tournament, Soderstrom opened up in the Swedish TV about his autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, known to cause “difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests” and still generally known as Asperger’s syndrome.
“I don’t actually know too much, my parents know everything, and they have obviously been the ones taking care of me. It doesn’t affect me too much anymore but when I was, say ten, I could focus on the things I really liked, but not at all on the things I didn’t like. Like school,” he says.
He got a place in a special school with fewer pupils and several teachers in the classroom.
“Instead of being in a classroom with 30 others, we had seven kids and a couple of teachers. I still stay in touch with the teachers, they mean a lot to me. Without them, I’d never be standing here today,” he said.
His teammates are all aware of his diagnosis, but they all say it’s a non-issue.
“I heard about it a few years ago when we played in a younger national team, but I absolutely don’t think about it all. He’s a wonderful person who brings a lot of energy to the room,” Lagesson said.
“I’m just a regular guy on the team. I’ve lived with this all my life, this is all I know,” Soderstrom told IIHF.com.
Now, Soderstrom wants to tell his story if it helps others who “know what it’s like to have no confidence, and who feel small and scared.”
That’s just not him anymore.
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