Finally, recognition with hardware.
With a steady stream of players from Sweden into the NHL over the past few decades, the awards presentation at the Wynn Encore this week served to make an important point.
The viable, competitive level of Swedish players in the NHL seems to be nearly equal to that of North American and other European players. The collection of hardware Wednesday night appears to support that conclusion.
After four natives of Sweden captured one-quarter of the awards Wednesday night, the achievements are considered valuable simply by the level of players who took home honors.
“It’s great to follow many from my country who came before me,” said the Avs’ Gabriel Landeskog, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. “Peter Forsberg was my hero growing up and we all saw what he achieved in the NHL. This is a great honor and it’s tough to describe how I feel right now.”
While Landeskog, a native of Stockholm, nearly put Colorado in the playoffs this past season, he clearly rewarded the Avs management for making him the club’s first pick and second overall in last year's draft. In leading the Avs in goals with 22 (30 assists, 52 points). Landeskog was the only Colorado player to appear in all 82 games and finished third in team scoring behind Ryan O’Reilly (18-37, 55), and Paul Stasny (21-32, 53).
Landeskog, who will not be 20 until this November, joined fellow countrymen in collecting a quarter of the hardware distributed Wednesday night.
At center stage, Erik Karlsson (Landsbro, Sweden) of Ottawa took the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman, Henrik Lundqvist (Are, Sweden) of the Rangers captured the Vezina as the best goalie and Daniel Alfredsson (Gothenburg, Sweden) of the Sens took the King Clancy Award for leadership quality.
In finishing second in the 1980 Norris balloting, defenseman Borje Salming of the Leafs proceeded Pelle Lindbergh, a fellow Swede, of the Flyers, who won the Vezina in 1985.
Now, Fins and Swedes represent an important component of nearly every NHL team, and contributions come from goalie Pekka Rinne (Kempele, Finland) of Nashville, to Teemu Selanne (Helsinki, Finland) of the Ducks, to Kimmo Timomen (Kuopio, Finland) of the Flyers, and noted players from the Czech Republic, including David Krejci (Sternberk, Czech Republic) of the Bruins to Radim Vrbata (Miada Boleslac, Czech Republic) of the Coyotes and Marian Gaborik (Trencin, Czech Republic) of the Rangers.
Despite players having considerable input with their respective teams, the universal factors of motivation, desire and commitment remain paramount.
“It comes down to how much you’re willing to work for it,” said Lundqvist in talking to reporters after accepting the Vezina.” Sure, winning this award is terrific, but you can’t win anything like this without assistance. To produce at a high level, you need good players around you.”
Now with another set of awards and trophies in the books, the quest for Karlsson to repeat as the Norris winner, Lundqvist ditto for the Vezina, and all the other hardware out there for grabs begins in earnest in just a few months.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.