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JONKOPING, Sweden – The Swedish hockey league season got a fairy-tale ending when HV71 Jonkoping’s Simon Onerud tapped in Martin Thornberg’s assist about halfway through the first overtime period of Game 7 on home ice in Jonkoping to win the game against Brynas Gavle 2-1. Both are originally products of HV71’s junior program, and served as team captains during the playoffs.
Onerud wore the C when Thornberg was sidelined in games five and six, having blocked a shot with his protective cup, and undergone a surgery. (The team’s regular season captain, Chris Abbott, suffered a neck injury in a practice during the team’s playoff run, and played only seven games).
“Last Tuesday, I couldn’t even stand up,” Thornberg told Sportbladet.
For HV71, getting Thornberg back in the lineup was a huge mental boost, and in the end, it was the determination of the 34-year-old second generation HV71 player, who also won the title with HV71 in 2004, 2008, and 2010, that was the difference in Game 7. He forced his way to the net in the first overtime period and sent a perfect backhand pass to Onerud who tapped the puck in.
“It’s crazy, I have no words. This is my home town, my team, it’s Game 7, overtime, and I get to score the game-winner on home ice. It’s unreal, I can’t believe it’s true,” Onerud told C More.
The championship-clinching goal was his tenth in the playoffs, most of all. Onerud was also named the winner of the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as the playoffs MVP. Liv, who died in the Yaroslavl plane accident in 2011, was the goaltender on HV71’s championship teams in 2004, 2008, and 2010.
“To win the prize means so much to me not only because it is one of the finest individual prizes you can win but also because it’s named after Stefan who was also at his best when it matters the most,” Onerud said.
While HV71 was the favourite to win the final, Brynas wasn’t a big underdog. HV71 finished second in the regular season, Brynas fifth, but the teams were separated by only five points (and had the same amount of regulation-time wins). In the post-season, though, HV71 advanced to the final having swept Farjestad in the first round, and dropping only one game to Malmo in the second round while Brynas had to play six games with Linkoping and then go the distance in its semi-final series against Frolunda, the 2016 champions.
But Brynas had their opportunity to win the club’s 14th championship. Three of the games in the final went into overtime, with Brynas winning two of them. They also had a 3-2 lead in the series going home for Game 6, but couldn’t find the way to take the fourth win.
Maybe the difference was goaltender Linus Soderstrom who played all 16 games and posted a respectable 92.17 save percentage (while illnesses forced Brynas to use two goalies). Maybe the pucks bounced HV71’s way when it most counted. Maybe HV71’s experience was the key. After all, their coach Johan Lindbom scored the overtime game-winner in 1995 when HV71 beat Brynas in Game 5 of the best-of-five final.
“It was a close series but I think our best players were better than theirs and that we deserved to win,” Lindbom said.
It was a team effort, said Martin Thornberg.
“It feels like we’re all from here, whether you’re an American, a Canadian, a Finn, or born here in Jonkoping. We all worked hard for each other,” he said.
There’s an old story about Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers walking past the New York Islanders dressing room after the Stanley Cup final in 1983, and instead of a big party, they saw the Islanders nursing their numerous injuries, showing Gretzky the price one must pay for a championship.
That was obvious also in Jonkoping.
And when Thornberg received the Le Mat trophy to hoist it as Swedish champions, he did it together with Abbott, who was on the ice wearing a heavy neck brace.
“It just felt right. He broke his neck and has been to every single practice to support us,” Thornberg said.
And then there was a big party.