World Championship bronze medal game: B is for bronze, B is for Backlund

It wasn't Pavelec, but Backlund did score against the Czechs today. - Martin Rose

Mikael Backlund was the lone Flame to receive any hardware at the World Championship. He helped lead Team Sweden to a bronze medal.

The final Flame vs. Flame matchup of the tournament was one we'd seen before: Sweden vs. Czech Republic, Backlund vs. Hudler. In the preliminaries, Backlund and the Swedes topped Hudler and the Czechs in a 4-3 shootout victory; Backlund had an assist while Hudler had a goal, and both were top forwards for their teams.

This game was more meaningful, though, since bronze medals were to be given out at the end. Sweden once again emerged on top, shutting out the Czechs in a 3-0 victory.

Team Czech Republic and Jiri Hudler

Hudler only played 8:40 today, the lowest out of all Czech skaters with any ice time to speak of (Jan Kovar played 8:41, while Martin Ruzicka never got any ice time at all). He had no shots on net, lost all three faceoffs he took, and was on the ice for the game winning goal. It's a far cry from the 18:41 he last played against the Swedes.

Hudler had an unremarkable tournament, but he came further than most of his Calgary teammates. The goal and four points over ten games isn't a far cry from his performance at last year's World Championship, when he scored four goals and five points over eight games; however, the Czechs lost to the Swiss in the quarterfinals then, and Hudler had a much greater role than he was given this tournament.

As the Flames' most recent points leader, he'll get a much greater opportunity to contribute again when the NHL returns. As for this tournament... eh.

Team Sweden and Mikael Backlund

Okay, here we go.

Backlund, who must be getting used to wearing an "A" by now, was once again one of Sweden's best players as he helped his country capture a bronze medal. It's a small consolation for the Swedes, who won gold last year; and likely an even smaller consolation for Backlund, who would have been a part of that gold medal-winning team had a late-season injury not kept him off the roster.

That said, he did a lot this tournament. While not named one of Sweden's best players, he was a force for his country.

In the bronze medal game, Backlund played 16:57, once again leading all Swedish forwards. He had five shots on net, leading all Swedes. And he scored the clinching third goal about halfway through the third period (many thanks once again to the gem that is @myregularface for her GIFs):

Mikael Backlund goal

He was also on the ice for Sweden's game winning goal, which came just 4:28 into the game.

This blog has already gushed about Mikael Backlund non-stop (because he's great!), so here's just a little more: as TSN pointed out, earlier this season, Backlund was banished to the fourth line and was even a healthy scratch. His name was even coming up in trade rumours. That time feels long ago, but it's only been a few months.

He wouldn't have been worth much. Trading him would have been disastrous.

But then a few things happened: Sean Monahan, one of Calgary's top centres, got hurt. Jay Feaster, who never seemed to like Backlund much, was fired. And Backlund was granted more ice time. And he thrived with it, so much he was given increased leeway when he went through small scoring droughts (those very same droughts that landed him on the fourth line earlier in the season). And he emerged as a leader, getting to wear his first "A" in January.

Backlund's season culminates with a bronze medal; and not just as a gimme, either. He led not just with a letter, but frequently in ice time. He was one of Sweden's top point getters, with five goals and eight points over ten games (Johnny Gaudreau was the only Flame to score more than him, with 10 points in eight games, but his team bowed out in the quarterfinals to the Czechs).

Next season will likely be Backlund's first full season being given a real chance. He'll be fun to watch for sure.

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