EDMONTON - The Swedes knew they would be getting a handful in the world junior quarterfinal. After all, Latvia wasn't even supposed to be in the tournament, but gained entry thanks to Russia getting banned for Putin's attack on Ukraine. Nonetheless, the Latvians have always been a hard-working, grinding squad and were playing for their first quarterfinal win ever.
"We knew they were a good team and that they would be competitive," said Sweden's Emil Andrae. "It was like their Super Bowl today."
Unfortunately for Latvia, Andrae played the role of Tom Brady, dashing those quarterfinal dreams by leading Sweden to a 2-1 victory. His elusiveness as a puck-carrier is incredibly valuable on breakouts, while a masterful defensive play in the first period broke up a shorthanded breakaway by Latvia's Felikss Gavars. Andrae, who comes in at just 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, also blew up a Latvian foe with a big hit later in the game.
The captain of the Swedes has been one of the best defensemen in the tournament and on a Swedish team that hasn't gotten a lot of offense from its forwards, the blueliner has made up for it by tallying a team-high eight points through five games, including the game-winning goal against Latvia.
"I try to produce as much as I can and help my team as much as I can, if it's a chip-out in the defensive zone or a shot from the blueline," Andrae said. "My teammates have done a good job in front of the goalie and I have to get those shots through; that's what I'm focused on."
A Philadelphia Flyers prospect who was drafted 54th overall in 2020, Andrae is no stranger to pressure situations. Back home in Sweden, he spent last year with HV71 as the team successfully got themselves promoted back up to the SHL after a shocking relegation to the second-tier Allsvenskan the season before.
"It was a tough year when we got relegated," he said. "As a team that had been in the SHL for a long time, it was hard. But we regrouped. It was a tough year (this past season) because every opponent, it was the biggest game of the year. We had a lot of pressure but we came together as a group."
Andrae certainly did his part with 11 points in 10 playoff games after finishing second in scoring amongst HV71 blueliners in the regular season. That play seems to have translated to the world juniors this summer.
"He's been tremendous," said Team Sweden coach Tomas Monten. "He was last year too, having an incredible season at home. He played in the Allsvenskan and that was really good for him, getting big minutes. For young players, they should think about that: not going too fast and just trying to be on a top team or in the top league. You gotta play. You need to get minutes and opportunities to play D-zone, O-zone, PK and power play if you want to be a good player and he's a really good player."
Getting to play with and against men in important games was obviously a great learning experience for the youngster.
"It helped me a lot," Andrae said. "Performing under pressure - that's a big key in this sport. I learned a lot, I played a lot and I helped the team a lot, so I was happy with that season and hope I can continue on there."
In the meantime, Andrae's current mission is to help guide Sweden to its first gold medal since 2012. While he likes to lead by example, the defenseman has also caught his coach's eye in terms of being vocal.
"He speaks up, he always says what he feels," Monten said. "He's always really good to us coaches - he's honest and tells us things we need to adjust. On the ice, he always comes to play. He competes, he makes plays, but he can shut down players, too."
So far, Andrae has been Sweden's best player. And if the captain can lift up his teammates with him, maybe that elusive gold can be captured by the Tre Kronor.