World champs go to Olympus
World champs go to Olympus
Sweden determined to spoil the party for host nation
It may sound absurd to call this the best Team Sweden ever, before the first game of this Olympic tournament has been played, and considering that the 2006 Olympic gold medal team was captained by Mats Sundin, and boasted with players like Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidström, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, and, say, Kenny Jönsson.
But in 2006, the Sedins hadn’t won their Art Ross trophies and Daniel Sedin his Ted Lindsay Award. Henrik Lundqvist hadn’t won his Vezina, and being in the middle of his first NHL season, hadn’t even been gotten his first Vezina nomination yet. Henrik Zetterberg was a force, sure, but a Conn Smythe Trophy-less force.
Well, Kenny Jonsson was named Best Defenceman in Turin.
This time around, the aforementioned players are more experienced and still in their prime, although Henrik Sedin will be missing due to his injury.
The good news for Swedish hockey fans is that the new generation of players may just be even better and more important for Sweden’s success than the veterans with the trophies.
Currently three Swedes are team captains in the NHL - Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin, and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog - and three alternate captains - Henrik Tallinder, Alexander Steen and Nicklas Backstrom. (And there’s one Daniel Alfredsson, who, having been the captain of the Ottawa Senators for 14 seasons, knows a thing or two about leadership.)
In addition, head coach Par Marts can go down his roster and also point to one Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenceman (Erik Karlsson), five Stanley Cup champions (Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, and Marcus Kruger), and one player in the Top-20 in NHL scoring in Nicklas Backstrom.Continue reading
And then there’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, widely considered one of the best young defencemen in the game.
Head coach Par Marts, who called Zetterberg “the best player I’ve ever coached”, has a great team in his hands, there’s no doubt about that. He was also behind the bench last May when Sweden broke the home-ice curse and won the World Championship in Stockholm, and that win had an effect on the team travelling to Sochi as well.
Defencemen Alexander Edler and Henrik Tallinder and goaltender Jhonas Enroth are on the Sochi team as a direct result of them winning the World Championship together with Marts eight months ago. While both Edler and Tallinder have struggled at times this season, both were named to the Olympic team; Tallinder for his leadership qualities, said Marts at the press conference in which he unveiled the team, and Edler got the call also as a prize for his service in the Worlds - where he was suspended for his knee-on-knee hit on Eric Staal, a suspension that keeps Edler out of action in the first two games at the Olympics.
Forward Jimmie Ericsson, the only player from the Swedish league, was also on the World Championship team. Marts also publicly stated that the Sedins - who played a decisive role in May - will be the team’s first line, and that they’d also play as much as they do in the NHL. It needs to be seen what the first line will look like after the injury of one of the Sedin twins.
Marts is known for his out-of-the-box thinking, and his focus is just as much on the building a team as it is on the X’s and O’s. And as always, he’s got mental coach Par Pettersson on his staff. He and Marts have worked together over a decade.
The World Championship win also assured Marts that the coaching staff didn’t need any new members from the NHL - something that former head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson did in Vancouver.
“We received signals from our NHL players after the World Championship gold that it was the best Swedish coaching they’d seen. We don’t have any better bench bosses in the NHL,” Team Sweden GM Tommy Boustedt said in November.
Marts has the tools, and he's got the pieces. All that's left is the assembly, but like with Ikea furniture, it may be more difficult than it looks.
Sweden is one of the big four favourites to go all the way. yThe have the goaltending, they have great defence, and a lethal offence. Sweden has what it takes to play in the final, and once there, it all comes down to one game, and anything is possible.
Henrik Lundqvist: The goalkeeper struggled early on this season, but has been in shape of a Vezina winning goalie all of 2014, and Marts has nothing to worry about.
Erik Karlsson: The little extra space that the Olympic size rink gives will help him dominate a game, and control its ebbs and flows. Key player on the power play.
Henrik Zetterberg: Naming Zetterberg the captain was an obvious choice for Marts, and if things get tough, the 33-year-old can take the team on his back and carry it on his own – herniated disc or not.
Nicklas Backstrom likes to hang back in the background. He’s fifth in assists in the NHL, and even on the Washington Capitals Christmas card he was a background percussion player. But he’s the one who lays down the beat for his line.
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