Since NHL players started participating in the Winter Olympics in 1998, we've seen three different gold medalists in four tournaments. Canada has won twice, while the Czechs and the Swedes have each boasted one victory.
Team Sweden is looking to become the second repeat champion at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) after their win at the 2013 World Championship, the Swedes are icing an Olympic roster that's strong at all positions.
A talented group of forwards will be backed up by a dynamic defense corps, then anchored by solid goaltending led by 2006 gold medalist Henrik Lundqvist.
The Swedes have one other Olympic gold to their credit: from 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, when Peter Forsberg beat Canada's Corey Hirsch in a dramatic shootout. Sweden won silver in 1928 and 1964 and picked up bronze in 1952, then in three straight Games: 1980, 1984 and 1988.
Teams like USA, Russia and Canada have received more attention going into the tournament, but Sweden is a true contender that shouldn't be taken lightly.
Here's a chance to catch up on everything you need to know about Team Sweden.
How Bad Is the Injury Bug?
On paper, the Swedes have one of the most complete rosters in the Olympic competition. But what shape will that roster be in when it gets to Sochi—and as the tournament wears on?
Johan Franzen has already withdrawn from the competition due to concussion-related issues, and a number of other Swedish players have recently missed games with injuries. To name a few, captain Henrik Zetterberg has been sidelined twice this year with back problems; Jonathan Ericsson returned on Jan. 22 after missing 10 games with a rib injury; Henrik Sedin has rejoined the Vancouver Canucks after sitting out six games with a rib injury of his own; and Alexander Steen and Loui Eriksson have both missed time with concussions.
Every team will have injury issues at the Olympics. For Sweden, some of its most important players could be operating well below 100 percent.
Can the Sedin Twins Deliver?
On top of Henrik's rib injury, both he and his twin brother Daniel have been mired in scoring slumps with the Vancouver Canucks. Henrik has just five assists in 11 games since the new year, while Daniel has delivered the same five assists in 17 games. Known as "the sniper" of the two, Daniel hasn't scored since Dec. 30.
The twins' arrival at the 2013 IIHF World Championship sparked Sweden's offense, eventually leading to a gold medal. They're both having a tough year offensively in the NHL: Will the magic happen again?
Can Henrik Lundqvist Channel 2006?
After Sweden was knocked out of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City by Belarus in the quarterfinals due to a goaltending gaffe from Tommy Salo, a nation breathed a sigh of relief when New York Rangers rookie Henrik Lundqvist stepped in to backstop Sweden to gold in Turin in 2006.
In the ensuing eight years, Lundqvist has established himself as one of the top netminders in the game. He's had a bit of a bumpy year with the New York Rangers but has gotten on track since the new year, allowing just 24 goals in 13 games to stake his team to a 9-3-1 record. With a strong defense corps in front of him, if Lundqvist is in top form, Sweden could be almost unbeatable.
The St. Louis Blues winger was having a career year and pacing Alex Ovechkin in goal scoring when he suffered a concussion in mid-December, missing a month of action. His scoring pace has eased since his return. Steen's always a dependable two-way player. Will he be able to crank up the offense in Sochi?
Loui Eriksson was the right-winger with the Sedins when they made such an impact at last year's World Championship. He'll get a chance to reprise that role on Sweden's first line and on the first unit power play. Eriksson has been sidelined twice with concussions this season, so he hasn't played to his usual level in his first year with the Boston Bruins. The Olympics could help him to rediscover his game.
The 2012 Norris Trophy winner is back to logging big minutes and is leading all NHL defensemen in scoring so far in 2013-14. After returning early from a serious Achilles injury in 2012-13, Karlsson struggled with his Ottawa Senators in the playoffs. At the Olympics, the young star will have the chance to play to his full potential on the world stage.
As a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson hasn't received the attention that would have come his way if he was playing in one of hockey's major markets. At just 22 years of age, he's already a key member of the Coyotes defense and an excellent two-way player who's having a career year offensively while remaining responsible in his own end. Expect Ekman-Larsson to get noticed for all the right reasons in Sochi.
First Line: Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Loui Eriksson
Second Line: Gabriel Landeskog - Nicklas Backstrom - Alexander Steen
Third Line: Jakob Silfverberg - Henrik Zetterberg - Gustav Nyquist
Fourth Line: Carl Hagelin - Patrick Berglund - Daniel Alfredsson
Extras: Marcus Kruger, Jimmie Ericsson
First Pairing: Jonathan Ericsson - Erik Karlsson
Second Pairing: Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Niklas Kronwall
Third Pairing: Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya
Extras: Alex Edler, Henrik Tallinder
Note: Alex Edler received a suspension during the 2013 World Championship for his knee-on-knee hit on Canada's Eric Staal. He'll be unavailable for Sweden's first two games of the Olympic tournament.
1. Henrik Lundqvist: There's not much doubt that Lundqvist will be Sweden's starter in Sochi. This will be his third Olympics; He has a gold medal from 2006. Lundqvist's game appears to be rounding into form at just the right time for a dazzling Olympic performance.
2. Jonas Gustavsson: "The Monster" has impressed in Detroit this season, posting a 13-4-3 record while backing up Jimmy Howard and filling in during Howard's many injuries. Gustavsson left Detroit's Feb. 3 game after one period with dizziness. Hopefully that won't be enough to knock him out of his backup role with Team Sweden.
3. Jhonas Enroth: Enroth has the unenviable day job of backing up workhorse Ryan Miller on the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres, but he earned his Olympic spot on the strength of a fantastic performance at the 2013 World Championships. Enroth went 6-1 with two shutouts as he backstopped Sweden to gold, allowing just eight goals in seven games. He'd love to get a chance to contribute again.
Head Coach: Pär Mårts: Mårts replaced Bengt-Åke Gustafsson as coach of the Swedish national team after the group's disappointing performance at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where it failed to medal.
In his three years at the helm, Mårts has led the squad to silver at the 2011 World Championship in Slovakia and, of course, to the gold medal in Stockholm in 2013. Sweden expects him to deliver in a similar fashion in Sochi.
Assistants: Peter Popovic, Rikard Gronborg
Outstanding defense: The Swedish blue line is headed up by 23-year-old Erik Karlsson and 22-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson—two young players who are just starting to realize their potential. In concert with the steady Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall from Detroit and Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya from Chicago, Sweden has an NHL-caliber defense that should be able to thwart all comers.
Momentum: With the gold-medal game of the 2013 World Championship in their home city of Stockholm, Team Sweden salvaged a rough start to the tournament with a gold medal—the first win for a host country at the World Championship since 1986. The win moved Sweden from fourth to first in the world ranking, making them the team to beat at Sochi.
History: When the Olympics were last played in Europe in 2006, Sweden was able to knock their North American rivals out of the picture and capture gold. The big ice surface should favor the European teams, which could increase Sweden's chances of victory.
Injuries: Johan Franzen has already been replaced by Gustav Nyquist on the Olympic roster due to concussion-related issues. Fellow Red Wings Zetterberg and Ericsson have just returned from injury issues of their own, as have Loui Eriksson, Alex Steen and Henrik Sedin, who appears to be struggling (per Ben Kuzma of The Province.) A healthy Team Sweden is formidable, but like every team, every injury makes the group a little more vulnerable.
Competition: Sweden's not the only team gunning for gold in Sochi. The Canadians are looking to repeat as gold medalists while the Russians are desperate to triumph on their home turf. The Americans want to build on their silver from 2010, the Finns are strong and the Swiss seem to have a knack for wreaking havoc on a tournament bracket. The Swedes look strong, but they'll need everything to go their way if they hope to emerge on top.
Sweden is part of Group C for the preliminary round.
Groupings are based on 2012 world rankings, when Sweden was No. 4. Their World Championship win moved them up to the top spot, so they're in good position in a group that includes the Czech Republic (4), Switzerland (7) and Latvia (11).
Unless the Czechs know something the rest of us aren't seeing, their strange collection of over-age veterans and one-dimensional role players shouldn't pose much of a threat in the preliminary round, nor should the Latvians. Switzerland has built a reputation as a team that can surprise in short tournaments and will be boasting one of the world's hottest goaltenders in Jonas Hiller.
The Swiss are the team that's most likely to challenge Sweden for top spot in Group C.
Sweden's Preliminary Round Games:
Wed. Feb. 12 at 12 p.m. ET: Sweden vs. Czech Republic (USA Network in U.S.; TBA in Canada)
Fri. Feb. 14 at 7:30 a.m. ET: Sweden vs. Switzerland (NBC Sports Network in U.S.; TSN in Canada)
Sat. Feb. 15 at 12 p.m. ET: Sweden vs. Latvia (USA Network in U.S.; tape delayed in Canada)
U.S. television information courtesy of Examiner.com.
Brothers in Arms: In addition to the famous Sedin twins, Team Sweden also boasts another pair of brothers. Jimmie Ericsson plays for AIK of the Swedish Hockey League. The 33-year-old is also the older brother of Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.
Unlike the Sedins, who have spent their entire careers together, the Ericsson brothers have rarely shared a sheet of ice. Prior to Sochi, both were on the roster for the 2010 World Championship, but Jimmie was injured in Sweden's first game.
NHL Rules: With Jimmie Ericsson as the only non-NHLer on their roster, the Swedes have more players coming over from the NHL than any other European team.
Breaking the Curse: With their gold medal win in Stockholm at the 2013 World Championship, Sweden became the first team to win gold in its homeland since 1986.
Canada, Russia and the U.S.A. have received the lion's share of the attention going into this tournament, but don't count out the Swedes.
If Team Sweden can stay healthy, they'll be challenging for gold come tournament's end on Feb. 23.