With the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships currently underway in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, I find it interesting to look at each team participating in the tournament, and to see where their strengths may lie. From there, I like to delve into (what I feel) are interesting aspects of individual players and what they bring to the table for their respective teams. This led me to look more closely at Team Sweden and a standout winger with a lot of firepower on their roster, Pernilla Winberg.
Including this current 2016 tournament, Pernilla has competed for Sweden at TEN different Women’s World Hockey Championship tournaments, beginning in 2004 at just 15-years of age. “The national team coach watched me play with a boys’ team when I was 13-years old, and after that I got invited to one practice during a summer camp that they (the national team) had”, Pernilla tells me. “After that practice, he called me up again and said that I should come back. And ever since then I have played for Team Sweden!”. With arguably her finest performance coming at he 2007 Championships in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when she netted 5-goals and 3-assists in 5-games, assuring a bronze medal at the tournament, Sweden will be looking for the veteran Winberg to contribute a similar level of production in Kamloops. In 40 World Championship games, Winberg has scored 10-goals and 18-assists for 28-points, including her 8-point production in 2007, as well as 7-point run (1-goal, 6-assists in 5-games in 2009).
For Pernilla’s tenth tournament, this time in Kamloops, she has nothing but the very best sentiments about playing in Canada. “It’s always a blast playing in Canada, and the tournaments always bring a lot of people to them. They are very professional”.
Competing in hockey has been in Pernilla’s life for a very long time. Starting at the age of 7 she would play organized hockey for the first time on a boys’ team, as there was little opportunity for Pernilla to play alongside girls in her hometown of Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden. “I always played with boys while I was growing up because we didn’t have much women’s and girls’ hockey down south. As I got older, I continued to play with boys’ teams, but also played some important games with a women’s team in Stockholm (AIK IF, or Allmänna Idrottsklubben Ishockeyförening). Perhaps it is no surprise that when I ask Pernilla who her favorite hockey player was growing up, she easily tells me “Peter Forsberg”; arguably the greatest Swedish hockey player of all-time, and one of the game’s true greats, period.
In international competition, what Pernilla Winberg is perhaps best known for is a startling upset of the Americans during the 2006 Torino Olympic games. At just 16-years of age at the time, Pernilla was the youngest player for Sweden. A seemingly storybook ending – a David versus Goliath of sorts – that the youngest Swede would be the one to knock aside USA in the semi-finals, as it would be Pernilla herself that scored the game-winning goal in a shootout victory. With Team Sweden defeating the Americans by a final score of 3-2, the game is one of the most significant in women’s hockey history, as it marked the first time in international play that USA lost in competition to another team besides Canada. Pernilla recalls, “I was 16-years old, and that was the best experience of my life! It was like a dream come true to play in an Olympic final. Nobody thought it was possible, and to score the winning shootout goal was just the best thing that had ever happened to me in my hockey career”. Team Sweden would go onto to face Canada in the gold medal game three days later, and though they would lose the final game 4-to-1, Pernilla and her teammates had pulled off the unthinkable and became silver medalists.
Winberg’s success at the Olympic games has continued well after the silver medal at Torino. A 5-goal performance in only 5-games in 2010 in Vancouver saw her cap-off a 4-goal output in one game against Slovakia, and a fifth goal against USA. In 2014 at the Sochi Olympics Winberg averaged better than a point per game, capitalizing on 3-goals to go with 4-assists in 6-games. The regularity of her scoring seems to always be there for Sweden, and her Olympic statistics total thus far at 9-goals and 7-assists in 16-games. It is amazing to think that she has been an integral part of Sweden’s Olympic program for such a long period time and since she was so young when it all started. I would have to imagine that there is at least one more Olympic run in her – at least.
Separate from international play, and in order to further her career as a hockey player, Pernilla opted to enroll at the University Minnesota-Duluth, beginning with the 2008-09 season. She was an immediate success for their hockey program. “I wanted to develop as a hockey player and as a person. And since Duluth was the best team in the country the year before I started school there, I saw it as a great opportunity to go there and get better”. In her freshman year at Duluth, Pernilla exploded right off the bat by scoring 14-goals and 27-assists for 41-points in 38-games. The Bulldogs would make it to the “Frozen Four”, the National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament, as semi-finalists, but would lose to Wisconsin 5-1. But there was no question that Winberg’s performance and numbers sparked a run that went far into the tournament for the Bulldogs, and that would enable them to play for the national championship that year in Boston, Massachusetts.
Across her four years playing NCAA hockey, Pernilla appeared in 139-games for the Bulldogs and maintained pretty close to her Olympic average of a point per game; she would end up scoring 45-goals and 66-assists for 111-points, all while playing for one of the best women’s collegiate programs throughout the world. Speaking of her decision to play at Minnesota-Duluth and how it correlated to her success in their hockey program, Winberg says, “I had a few teammates (from Sweden) that had already played or were playing there at the time, and because of that it was natural for me to go there and be comfortable when I already knew a lot of the people”.
Currently playing for Linköpings HC in Sweden, Pernilla attends the 2016 Kamloops Championships with a tremendous amount of achievements associated with her name and hockey teams that she has been a part of. And while she is still only 27-years of age, she will be a steadying veteran presence for Sweden at the tournament, having been through this same grind and in the international spotlight many times before. In many ways, this tournament will be nothing new for Pernilla Winberg, and in many ways, Sweden would not want it to be – they would want her winning ways and scoring prowess to continue as it always has. Still, she finds it just as much fun and just as meaningful, being able to compete in the tournament as a member of Team Sweden. “It is always an honor to play for your country, and there is nothing better than to put on that jersey in a championship”.
It is exciting to know what this Swedish sniper can bring to the table for her hockey club, and it will be enjoyable to watch her play regardless. Best of luck to Pernilla Winberg and to Team Sweden!