Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The World Championship starts on Friday, as the Buffalo Sabres will be well-represented in the 2022 tournament.
Head coach Don Granato will serve as an assistant coach with Team USA, while John Hayden is on the roster at forward.
Defenseman Henri Jokiharju was supposed to play for the host country Finland, but the team announced he's out due to COVID-19. Dylan Cozens will represent Canada while Rasmus Asplund and Rasmus Dahlin will both suit up for Sweden.
Dahlin had a breakout year during the 2021-22 season, and I think it can be traced back to Granato injecting his All-Star defenseman with a wealth of confidence.
The 22-year-old was struggling mightily, and fans and media were all over him. Many were suggesting to me he get traded, sent to the Rochester Americans, or he gets moved to forward.
Many had given up on Dahlin, but Granato had seen enough.
All of a sudden at every single media opportunity, Granato started talking about how good Dahlin is. Whether he played well or not, Granato just gushed about him, and his young defenseman took notice. All of a sudden, he started playing like the first overall pick he was touted to be in 2018, and he never looked back.
Dahlin really appreciated Granato having his back.
“He makes sure that you are confident, and you really feel that he has your back," said Dahlin during his end-of-season press conference on April 30. "I remember I did some mistake against Seattle, but he stood up for me, and it makes us players feel really good. We want to win for him.”
Dahlin used to pay attention to all the comments, and he admitted it did bother him. He says part of maturing is tuning out the noise.
“It took a few years to understand that all the noise doesn’t matter," Dahlin said. This year I barely used social media, so small stuff like that helped me a lot. Thanks to the coaches, too, just letting me do the mistakes to be able to get better.”
The whole experience was a valuable learning one for Dahlin.
“I’ve learned a lot," he said. "I learned to take more of a leadership mentality, to handle pressure, handle setbacks. I’ve learned to play more minutes. I’ve learned not to get caught up in mistakes on the ice. It’s a lot. It’s been a year of growth, and I feel like a different person right now.”
As Dahlin got more confidence, we started to see more of his personality, as he spoke with the media. He joked around more, and was more comfortable speaking.
Granato made Mark Pysyk an alternate captain for the Heritage Classic, but when he wasn’t dressed for a game, Dahlin wore the “A” on his chest. Dahlin says he’s now more comfortable being a leader inside the dressing room.
“I knew that I always had it, but I wasn’t really comfortable with it," Dahlin said. "When I was younger playing with kids my own age, this was the player I was. So I knew I had it, but it took some time.”
The Sabres were over a .600 team in the final two months of the 2021-22 season. Dahlin says there are reasons why.
“I feel like we really started to compete every game, and we find a way to play together," he said. "I really think that other teams know when they’re coming here, they know it’s not going to be an easy game to play against us.”
Dahlin talks a lot about how happy he is to be in Buffalo and to with the Sabres. He is really excited with what he sees being built here.
“It’s a step in the right direction," Dahlin said. "We’re a young group of guys that want to be here and want to do something great here. I think it’s a good start, and we have something to build on. That’s what excites me the most, but we’re not satisfied, because we want to win here. We have something good going on.”
Dahlin’s first game with Sweden is Saturday against Austria. Many of the games from the World Championship will be broadcast on the NHL Network.