As preliminary pool play for men’s hockey begins in earnest during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Swedish national team comes to western Canada with swagger and focus. The Swedes are the defending gold medal winners, knocking off arch rival Finland in the gold medal game in Torino back in 2006.
Former NHL players Mats Naslund and Bengt-Åke Gustafsson are intent on keeping Sweden on top here in Vancouver. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) currently has them ranked third behind Russia and Canada. Expect Sweden to do whatever they can in order to try and repeat as gold medalists when all is said and done on February 28th.
The rosters are frozen now, as the deadline for replacing and swapping out players has passed. That means the names you see here are the ones you’ll see on the Team Sweden roster when they kick off preliminary play on February 17th against Germany.
TEAM SWEDEN OLYMPIC ROSTER
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Sweden returns two of the three goaltenders that they had when they won the gold medal in Torino four years ago.
Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas Gustavsson and Stefan Liv are the trio of netminders that Gustafsson will have at his disposal to deploy.
While the talent base or pedigree may not be as deep as that of what the Canadian team has, the depth and experience factors give them an advantage over the Americans. and most of the other competitors.
Lundqvist did the majority of the heavy lifting when it came to the 2006 Olympics, and would have to be expected to be shouldering the load in Vancouver as well.
He went 5-1 with a .917 save percentage in Torino, allowing just twelve goals in those contests.
Throw in a pair of silver medals in 2003 and 2004 at the World Championships, and he is more than capable of backstopping his team to gold again in Vancouver.
Liv was in Torino with Lundqvist in 2006, and has plenty of international experience to boot. While he has never logged an NHL minute he has been solid in Swedish Elite League play, with 29 shutouts in 308 starts entering this season.
He also has been a member of four medal winning World Championship teams. Sweden took bronze in 2002 and 2009, silver in 2004 and gold in 2006 with him as a member of the roster. He has enough talent and skill to step in if needed.
Gustavsson is solid depth and it is uncertain how much playing time he’ll actually get. He was dominant in the 2008/09 campaign in the Swedish Elite League when he posted a miniscule 1.03 GAA in 13 playoff games to go with a .961 save percentage and five shutouts. He has yet to be that solid in Toronto in the NHL but still has plenty of time to recognize his upside.
ON THE BLUELINE
While the Americans and Canadians have gone with more of a youth movement on the blueline to try and have fresher legs on the ice, Sweden has decided to deal the experience card.
Three of the top defensemen from that 2006 team will be back in Vancouver to help Lundqvist in their own zone.
When it comes to experience one would be hardpressed to find a player with more of it than Nicklas Lidström. Lidström has four Stanley Cups and six Norris Trophies to his credit.
He has medals from three World Championships: gold in 1991, bronze in 1994 and silver in 2004 to go with the gold medal from the 2006 Olympics.
Throw in a pair of World Cup of Hockey appearances, and the fact that this is his FOURTH Olympic Games, and you can see the wealth of knowledge he has in his head.
That alone can help a team when it comes to crunch time and dealing with the tendencies and actions of their opponents.
Also back for another run at Olympic gold is Mattias Öhlund. Öhlund will be taking part in his fourth Olympics as well in Vancouver. He also has three medals from the World Junior Championships, and three from World Championships action. He also played in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and has 69 games of international experience, with 21 of those from the World Junior Championships.
The third defenseman back for another Olympic run is Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall replaced Öhlund after he suffered fractured ribs in a game against Switzerland during the 2006 Olympics. Kronwall had originally been selected but removed himself from consideration as he was rehabbing a knee injury at the time.
He has two medals from World Championship play and is one of just eight players to win gold medals in the Olympics and the World Cup in the same year. His time with Detroit, especially in the playoffs the last two seasons will be a big boost for his confidence.
The rest of the blueline for Sweden is solid, if not spectacular. Magnus Johansson returns for another run of international play. He’s appeared in six World Championships, and he is one of the most prolific scoring defensemen in Swedish Elite League history. Add in NHLers like Johnny Oduya, Doug Murray, Henrik Tallinder and Tobias Enström, and there is more than enough talent in their own zone.
CRASHING THE NET
Once again Sweden deviates from the pattern of the Americans and the Canadians, going with experience over youth. Only three of the dozen forwards representing the country are under 26.
Three of the forwards that will be the anchors of the offensive attack are 35 and older, with five others turning 30 later this year. Ten of the twelve are playing in the NHL this season.
Most likely the biggest concern for the Swedes will be if they can find the right line combinations in order to put the puck in the net. It can be tough to find the right matchps, especially in a short time window with which to work with.
Coach Gustafsson will need to put on his thinking cap in order to align things properly before the medal round if a repeat is to be in the cards.
Daniel Alfredsson is arguably one of the most recognizable names of the forwards. Now 37, Alfredsson still can play with the best of them. He’s appeared in an astounding 70 international games for Sweden, covering 12 different events.
This will be his fourth Olympics, and judging from his performance in prior appearances (20 points, including 8 goals in 16 games), he’s more than ready to play. He has two bronze and two silver medals from World Championship appearances to his credit as well.
Peter Forsberg is back for one last hurrah most likely in international competition. Foppa, as he is known affectionately, spurned the NHL this season after having serious foot issues and is playing for Modo in the Swedish Elite League. This is his third Olympics, winning gold in Lillehammer in 1994 and then again in Torino in 2006.
Throw in a bronze in the World Cup in 1996, along with two gold and three silver medals in the World Championships, along with his NHL pedigree, and you know that Forsberg will leave it all out on the ice. Even with the foot injury that cost him time and at his advanced age (he’ll turn 37 in July), he is still extremely gifted with the puck.
Henrik Zetterberg will also be a key cog in the Sweden offensive wheel. After winning two bronze, a silver and a gold medal in the World Championships, he added gold in Torino back in 2006.
This will be his third Olympic Games, and being one of just 22 players in history to hold World Championship gold, Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup title to his credit, Zetterberg is a fine leader and complimentary player to Forsberg and Alfredsson on the ice.
The Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik will also be major cogs in the Swedish attack. Mix in youth like Nicklas Backstrom, Loui Eriksson and Patric Hörnqvist with Fredrik Modin, Johan Franzén, Mattias Weinhandl and Samuel Påhlsson and you have a group that any coach would love to ice on a regular basis. Expect to see Påhlsson in a lot of penalty killing situations, as he is a top notch defensive forward.
For a team that won gold in 2006, the Swedes didn’t do much to hurt their chances for a repeat performance.
While they have fallen to third in the IIHF rankings, they have enough veteran leadership and mettle to survive the battles that lie ahead.
The team has talent top to bottom with plenty of players that have been around long enough to know how things work.
The biggest competition for the Swedes will be Russia and Canada. If Lundqvist can keep the puck out of the net while Alfredsson and company score timely goals, they’ll have a shot at repeating.
Worst case scenario, I can’t see them finishing with anything less than the bronze. There simply is too much experience in the international arena for Tre Kronor to fall short of the medal podium here in 2010.