Repeating as champions is difficult in any sport. The competition has a tendency to adapt the second time around and the reigning champ always has that proverbial target on their back.
In Olympic ice hockey, if you aren’t Canada or Russia, winning back-to-back Gold medals could quite possibly be the hardest repeat performance of them all.
Since 1920, the Canadians and the Russians have been the only two countries to repeat as champions in this Olympic sport, but since NHL players were allowed to compete in these Winter Games in 1998, a country has yet to accomplish this arduous task.
In fact, since NHL professionals started taking the ice for their countries, only Russia has been able to medal in consecutive Olympic Games.
This doesn’t exactly bode well for Team Sweden.
Entering the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Swedes are six-to-one favorites to win the Gold according to Bodog.com, a decent distance behind the favorites, Canada and Russia. But this is hardly a change from previous Olympic seasons.
In Turin, Sweden squeaked their way past the Group round with three wins and pulled a fairly easy draw in the playoffs, playing Switzerland and the Czech Republic to get into the Gold Medal Game, avoiding Canada and Russia all together.
This year, their toughest opponent in Group play will be against the always competitive Finnish, but unlike the previous Olympic season, the medal round has a different twist .
The chances of the Swedes running into the Canadians or the Russians are much higher, especially if Canada stumbles in Group play like they did four years ago.
Luckily for Sweden, they are returning 13 players from their team that made the rush for the gold in 2006. Most importantly, they bring back their brick wall in net, Henrik Lundqvist, and the Sedin twins, who will be playing in an extremely familiar arena.
Lundqvist currently ranks ninth in the NHL with a .922 Save Percentage and 11th in GAA (2.34), and he will need to produce at this elevated level in order to help the Swedes reach any type of medal game.
Fortunately for King Henrik, he will have help from an offense that has a plethora of weapons, something he is not accustom to playing in New York.
As of today, Henrik Sedin is the NHL’s point leader, posting 76 points in 52 games. For the first time in his NHL career, he had to play a string of games without his twin brother Daniel, who missed 18 games earlier this season due to a broken foot. But it didn’t seem to faze him one bit.
While Henrik was explosive in his brother absence, Daniel’s return has been anything short of spectacular for the duo.
Since his return in late November, Daniel has posted 44 points in 30 games and has only been held without a point in six games. Henrik has also kept the pedal to the medal in that time span, notching 52 points, only being held off the score sheet four times.
If the Swedes have any chance of repeating in this year’s Winter Olympics, these three stars will have to carry the brunt of the load. A quiet outing in Vancouver by these elite players could not only by detrimental to their hopes for gold but possibly winning any medal at all.