GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lias Andersson walked into the first day of the Rangers’ prospect development camp on June 26 oozing confidence. He came across as an ambitious young man comfortable in his own skin, conscious of his ability and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
“Just be a leader on the ice and off the ice,” Andersson said he wants to be that day. “I want to win everything. I’m a winner.”
That competitive edge was on full display Friday night when the 19-year-old Swede, whom the Rangers selected No. 7 overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, tossed his silver medal to a fan in the stands after Sweden lost to Canada in the finals of the World Junior Championships in Buffalo when Canada took the lead with 1:40 left in the game.
This immediately threw social media into a tizzy with all sorts of wide-ranging hot takes about sportsmanship and the maturity level of Andersson, who captained the Swedish team and finished the tournament with six goals and an assist in seven games.
It all reeks of faux outrage, a viral moment causing people to act indignant over a supposed disrespect for the medal and the tournament.
Now, going back to that quote. Tossing a medal into the stands wouldn’t be atop any list of signs of leadership, but it is completely indicative of Andersson’s expectations for himself and his team, his drive to be the best and how failure pains him to the core. His brain is wired to win, and when after putting in countless hours of work toward that goal he doesn’t win, he’s devastated.
Isn’t that the type of athlete fans and pro franchises, or in this case hockey federations, want on their teams? Players who are not just obsessed with winning but even more so can’t stand to lose?
Before the Rangers played the Coyotes here Saturday, Alain Vigneault said he hadn’t seen the medal toss but heard about it.
Lias Andersson and Team Sweden came up short against Canada in the world juniors Friday night.
(Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)
“All I can say is everything I’ve heard about Lias is he’s a real competitive young man,” Vigneault said. “Probably losing in the last minute-and-something was a little bit overwhelming at the time. It is what it is.
“You want your players to compete, to be competitive, to not like to lose,” the coach added. “All that part I like about it. There’s behavioral conduct, but he’s a young man and he wants to win, so that’s real positive.”
Andersson said after the game the fan wanted the silver medal more than him, and that he wouldn’t regret tossing it away.
“I have a silver medal from the U-18 Worlds and I haven’t checked it for two years,” he said.
It’s all well and good to preach sportsmanship to children, but when athletes reach higher levels with brighter spotlights and bigger stakes, it all becomes about winning. No kid has ever hoped to only make the Stanley Cup Final. The dream is to hoist the Cup.
Andersson doesn’t cherish second place, and really, he should be able to do whatever he wants with his medal. That kind of bold personality and insatiable desire to succeed will serve Andersson well when he eventually breaks into the NHL, and it will serve the Rangers well too.