Pass-Fail Marks for Each Olympic-Bound Detroit Red Wings Player in Sochi
It’s that special time every four years when select NHL players trade in their team colors to don those of their homeland.
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will be an even bigger stage for players who have the honor of representing their country. The Detroit Red Wings consistently boast a number of players in the Olympic Games, and this season is cut from the same cloth.
The Red Wings are sending 12 of their own to Sochi, and it will be a momentous experience for all. Four of the Red Wings will be making their first Olympic experience in Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco (Slovakia), Jonathan Ericsson (Sweden) and Jimmy Howard (USA).
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will each suit up for their fourth Olympics, and both will experience their first as team captain. That’s a testament to the leadership Detroit has in its own locker room.
Jonas Gustavsson will make his second Olympic appearance, and Daniel Alfredsson will make his fifth—both for Team Sweden. Head coach Mike Babcock will return behind the bench for Team Canada and GM Ken Holland is a member of Canada's management group.
Detroit’s 12 Olympic participants will certainly make their countries proud, but their performance has yet to be scrutinized, and it’s time to play the devil’s advocate. Here are the pass-fail marks for all 10 of the Olympic-bound Detroit Red Wings' players.
Henrik Zetterberg: Sweden
Henrik Zetterberg is making his fourth Olympic appearance and first as Sweden’s team captain.
Zetterberg has had multiple terrific experiences on the international stage, the highlight being his gold medal win during the Turin Olympics in 2006. Zetterberg conveyed his excitement to Bill Roose of detroitredwings.com:
I’m looking forward to this one just as much as I did the past ones. It’s been a few tough defeats and we won the gold in Turin, so I’ve been through it all and hopefully we can get another gold.
As a consummate professional, Zetterberg will certainly be viewed as a respected leader for his homeland, especially with five other Red Wings on the roster. In 16 career Olympic contests, Zetterberg has a modest four goals and four assists. He totaled three goals and three assists in their eight-game run to gold in 2006. The other two tournaments ended after just the four-game schedule.
Zetterberg will lead an experienced group with other popular NHL stars such as Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Erik Karlsson and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Sweden has failed to medal in two of the past three Winter Olympics.
Pavel Datsyuk: Russia
Pavel Datsyuk, like Henrik Zetterberg, will be making his fourth Olympic appearance and first as a team captain.
With the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk rounding out the roster, it’s quite the honor for Datsyuk to wear the “C” for his homeland, a notion he expressed to Andrea Nelson of detroitredwings.com:
“It’s an honor, humbled to represent Russian team, especially in hometown, home country. Lots of pressure for us, but so happy.”
Datsyuk has been one of the premier players in the NHL and renowned throughout the world of hockey for his “magic” on the ice. He was a member of Team Russia that secured a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
In 18 career Olympic games, Datsyuk has totaled three goals and a healthy 11 assists for Russia, and when healthy, will likely be the most dangerous player on home ice in Sochi.
Daniel Alfredsson: Sweden
Veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson will once again skate with Team Sweden, this being his fifth Olympics.
As a member of the 2006 team that won gold in Turin, Alfredsson will again skate next to teammate Henrik Zetterberg. Having them now sharing a locker room in Detroit, it should make for an excellent leadership tandem for a deep Sweden team.
Alfredsson has 11 goals and 23 points in 20 games on the Olympic stage and was a tremendous contributor to their gold medal in 2006 with 10 points in eight games. Even though he won’t be wearing the “C” for Sweden, he’s certainly a player everyone on the roster can look to for leadership and guidance at the Olympic level.
This is very likely to be Alfredsson’s last opportunity to win another gold medal, so it’s easy to believe that with his track record and a strong roster, he’ll be sure to give his nation his best.
Johan Franzen: Sweden
Earning a spot on Team Sweden for a second time, Johan Franzen is looking to make a larger impact in Sochi.
Franzen is recovering from a concussion suffered nearly four weeks ago, but is progressing and hopes to return in time for the Olympics. Franzen was playing his best hockey of the season when he was hit by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas on Dec. 15.
With 22 points in 30 games, Franzen was a big part of Detroit’s offense when Henrik Zetterberg was suffering from a herniated disc in his back. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t had an opportunity to get healthy since, and Franzen’s absence is noticeable.
His size will add a good physical element to the finesse style that Sweden plays, but it’s possible he isn’t ready to go in time to represent his country. Concussions are so difficult to predict, and he was just cleared to practice this week.
It is possible he could be ready for Sochi, but after a layoff of more than a month, he isn’t likely to be his usual self.
Tomas Tatar: Slovakia
It has been a very emotional month for young Wings’ forward Tomas Tatar.
Early this month, Slovakia unveiled their roster for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Tatar was selected for the first time. Last week he lost his father, Jan.
During Saturday’s game against Los Angeles, Tatar scored a goal and added an assist in a game he dedicated to his late father. In celebration of his goal, Tatar removed his glove, kissed his index finger and pointed to the heavens in a very touching moment.
Last season Tatar led the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup title and was named playoff MVP, and this year has been a much-needed offensive boost for Detroit. His 10 goals are fourth on the team, and he has 19 total points in 38 games.
His speed and strength with the puck will be invaluable for Slovakia, especially on the larger international rink. He has the drive to take advantage of his opportunity at multiple levels, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him impress for his native land.
Jonas Gustavsson: Sweden
When Jonas Gustavsson has been healthy this season, he has been more than reliable for the Detroit Red Wings. For the second straight Winter Olympics, Team Sweden agrees.
Now to be realistic, Gustavsson will be nothing more than a backup to world-class goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Detroit’s six Swedish Olympians had a front-row seat to Lundqvist’s talent on Thursday night when he stopped 38 shots in a 1-0 shutout of the Red Wings.
"The Monster" has an 11-3-2 record, 2.39 goals-against average and .914 save percentage on the year. He’s been a big part of Detroit’s success throughout all of their injuries, including some to starting goaltender Jimmy Howard.
He has one start at the Olympic level, a 4-2 win over Belarus during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It’s possible Gustavsson could receive a start during this year’s tournament and even being selected is a high honor, but he’s stuck behind arguably the best in the world.
Jonathan Ericsson: Sweden
Big defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was selected to represent team Sweden for the first time in his career.
It’s possible that his familiarity with Detroit teammate Niklas Kronwall could ultimately line them up together on Team Sweden, and the experience at the Olympic level will be invaluable. He also will get to skate with his older brother, Jimmie Ericsson, who was selected from the Swedish Elite League’s Skellefteå.
It looks to be an exciting opportunity for Ericsson, and making it a family affair will be even more special. Playing alongside five of his teammates, the atmosphere shouldn’t be anything too daunting for the five-year veteran.
At the internation level, Ericsson has competed in the World Championships twice in 2010 and 2012. During the 2010 season, he led Sweden in average ice time.
Jimmy Howard: USA
After struggling with injuries and inconsistent play, Jimmy Howard appears to be righting the ship in Detroit. His play over the course of his career was the reason he was selected for Team USA.
I know he would say the same thing, I think this has not been his best year but his body of work has been fabulous. I mean, 35 wins in three consecutive seasons and the playoff record the Wings have with him in goal. The big games that he has won for the Wings, especially on the road and behind in series, or what have you, I mean, I know what Jimmy Howard can do but I think the rest of our committee knows what he can do and he got a spot on the Olympic team based on his body of work.
Howard’s biggest international achievement came as a gold medalist with the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team at the IIHF Men’s Under-18 World Championship in Trnava and Piestany, Slovakia.
In his last four starts with Detroit, Howard has stopped 154 of the 161 shots he’s faced for a sparkling .956 save percentage. Unfortunately, his record in those four starts is just 2-2-0.
Overall, Howard is 8-11-8 in 27 starts with a 2.61 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts. Even more unlucky, he’ll be listed as the third-string goaltender behind Olympic veteran Ryan Miller and 2012 Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick.
Tomas Jurco: Slovakia
Detroit Red Wings prospect Tomas Jurco has had an incredible season.
Jurco has posted 32 points in 32 games with Grand Rapids of the AHL after scoring 28 points in 74 games the year before. He has also spent eight games with Detroit at the NHL level recording two flashy goals and an assist.
His talent has been highly-touted since Detroit took him with the 35th overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft. Slovakia is well aware of his skill and subsequently awarded him with a 2014 Olympic selection. Until now, Jurco’s international highlights have been as a member of Slovakia’s 2009 and 2010 teams at the World Junior Championships.
Jurco will certainly see some ice time, and his youth could be a dangerous asset on the larger playing surface. His familiarity with Tatar from Grand Rapids and his short stint in Detroit could pay dividends should they be lined up alongside one another.
At just 21 years old, the opportunity of a lifetime is imminent, but it certainly won't be the last for the budding star. The experience will also be instrumental in his progression towards his inevitable NHL career.
Niklas Kronwall: Sweden
Niklas Kronwall returns to man the blue line for team Sweden with his third Olympic selection.
Kronwall was a member of the 2006 gold medal-winning team in Turin with Detroit teammates Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson. As an experienced NHL and international veteran, he looks to add to his resume that includes Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup.
Although he has played alongside Nicklas Lidstrom for the vast majority of his professional hockey career, Kronwall has come into his own as a solid defenseman and tremendous locker room personality. Both are key aspects for his selection to Team Sweden for a third straight Winter Olympics.
He has registered two points in six games between the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, but looks to improve upon his personal numbers while reclaiming Sweden’s past Olympic glory.
At 33 years old, Kronwall is the second-oldest player on defense next to Henrik Tallinder (35). The remaining six defensemen are an average age of 26.5 years old, so Kronwall is likely to see the vast majority of ice time as the team’s veteran blue-line leader. He is sure to have success stemming from his individual skill and the overall depth of the team, especially playing in front of Henrik Lundqvist.