Team Sweden—or, “Tre Kronor,” as they are also known—have been highly successful at the Worlds and own the distinction of being the reigning Olympic Gold Medalist, having brought Home the gold at the 2006 Olympics.
For the most part, Team Canada, Team USA, and Russia have been getting all the attention leading up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The attention is not without merit. Canada, Russia and, to a lesser degree, Team USA, are stacked up front and, while not perfect, all three countries expect to unleash a very impressive overall lineup.
Sweden will be no exception as they too will ice a very well-rounded roster. Let’s face it; Sweden has an excellent shot at winning it all. Don’t believe my hype? Let’s take an early look at my picks to make the Olympic squad in 2010.
LW: Daniel Sedin C: Henrik Sedin RW: Daniel Alfredsson
Hampered by a broken foot for much of the 2009-10 season, Daniel Sedin will still get the nod as a member of Sweden’s No. 1 line. His chemistry with brother Henrik is legendary, so don’t believe for a moment that Sweden is going to mess with that.
Much like his brother Daniel, Henrik has uncanny chemistry with his brother. Through 27 games with the Vancouver Canucks, Henrik leads all Swedish players with 14 goals. His offensive contribution will be relied on heavily, as will his emerging leadership skills.
Through 25 games with the Ottawa Senators, Daniel Alfredsson has accumulated nine goals and 26 points, third best amongst his countrymen. There is plenty of love for Alfredsson in his home country and teammates alike, as such, look for him to be on the first line and to wear the coveted “C” for Sweden.
LW: Henrik Zetterberg C: Nicklas Backstrom RW: Loui Eriksson
Simply put, Henrik Zetterberg is a winner. His contributions to Team Sweden and the Detroit Red Wings are well documented and, given his penchant for coming up large when the heat is on, will see plenty of even strength and special teams time on the ice.
Niklas Backstrom has quickly established himself as an elite NHL player and, by all accounts, will be relied upon to bring the secondary scoring that is necessary for a country to be successful at the Olympic’s. Through 27 games played, Backstrom leads his countrymen with 21 assists. He will be dishing to two of the games finest finishers, so expect big numbers.
Like Many Olympic rosters, many players will be asked to play out of position for the betterment of the team. Loui Eriksson will be no exception. Blessed with a finisher's tough, Eriksson will be a huge threat when he is out on the ice and, much like Zetterberg, will be asked to light the lamp on the regular.
LW: Marcus Naslund C: Patrick Berglund RW: Mikael Samuelsson
Kristian Huselius Johan Franzen
There are plenty of candidates to fill out the third line. A player that has a legitimate shot at stealing a third-line roster spot is former NHL’er Marcus Naslund. Don’t forget, Naslund scored 24 goals and netted 46 points in 82 games with the New York Rangers last season, so he still “has it.”
If not Naslund, we will likely see Columbus Blue Jackets forward Kristian Huselius on the third line. Huselius’ contributions are often overlooked. Sweden will give this veteran every opportunity to make this team.
To say the least, Patrick Berglund has had a very trying season with the St. Louis Blues. His point totals have taken a beating and, by all accounts, Sweden has been underwhelmed with his five point performance through 21 NHL games.
If given the choice, Sweden may very well opt to go with a player like Johan Franzen, who, despite being a long shot to make the team, might just make it back in time to get in a few NHL games and be in good shape to make this team.
Obviously, any chance of Franzen making the team is dependent on his recovery from his torn ACL. That said, Franzen at 60 percent may still be better than Berglund at 100 percent.
Former NHL icon Peter Forsberg is on record as saying he would like to play for Sweden in the upcoming Olympics. If healthy, he is all but certain to steal the third-line centre roster spot; Sweden owes him as much.
If Forsberg, Naslund, and Franzen are ready to go, I suspect Sweden’s third line will see Forsberg flanked by Naslund and Franzen, but it’s a longshot at best. Naslund, Franzen, and Samuelsson can all play either wing, so any combination of these players is a real possibility.
The aforementioned Mikael Samuelsson will be asked to fill any number of roles, including third line right winger and/or jumping up to the second line and even seeing some time on the power play. Samuelsson is an extremely valuable player and may end up being Sweden’s unsung hero when everything is all said and done.
LW: Niclas Bergfors C: Samuel Phalsson RW: Tomas Holmstrom
For many Olympic teams, the fourth line is the biggest quagmire and, considering Sweden’s injury situation, theirs will be no exception.
It’s hard to imagine a player like Forsberg, Franzen, Huselius, or Naslund playing on Sweden’s fourth line. None of these players fit the mould for fourth line duty and, by all accounts, if they do manage to crack the lineup they will likely serve as third liners and perhaps on the power play.
Sweden does not have a ton of gritty talent to draw from, but there are players that can fill the role.
One player that fits the bill is Detroit Red Wings veteran Tomas Holmstrom. His Stanley Cup experience is huge, and his ability to crowd the net and make life miserable for his opponents is legendary.
Samuel Phalsson will most certainly Centre the fourth line. His playoff performance for the Anaheim Ducks was one for the ages and, if he can play anywhere near as well at the Olympics, his impact would be huge.
Niclas Bergfors has 17 points through 25 games with the New Jersey Devils. His offensive talents will lead Sweden to include him on their 2010 Olympic roster and if that means he will see fourth line duty, so be it. He can easily step up and play on any of Sweden’s top lines and may very well work his way up the ladder as the tournament progresses.
Niklas Lidstrom —This guy is a WINNER, period. Any team would embrace him as their No. 1 D-Man, and be lucky to have him. Lidstrom will be Captain of this team, in order for this team to be successful Lidstrom will need to log huge minutes; he has the ability to steal a game on his own and will be an integral member of the Power Play and to the Swedish team in general. Tournament MVP is not out of the question.
Niklas Kronwall —Well, looky here, another Detroit Red Wing! Maybe the Swedes should consider putting a Red Wings patch on their shoulders? Kronwall is a steady D-Man, capable of stepping up in any situation, will be a major force on Sweden's power play, and should see plenty of action against the tournaments best players.
Alexander Edler —Consistent, hard-working D-man, capable of raising his game and bringing more of an offensive presence than many would expect. He has become one of Vancouver’s best defensemen and, through 27 games, has registered 19 points, which ties him with Tobias Enstrom for the lead amongst all Swedish D-men.
Tobias Enstrom —Like Edler, has 19 points through 24 games with the Atlanta Thrashers. His plus/minus rating of +11 ranks him first amongst all Swedish D-men and his solid defensive play is a big reason the Thrashers are in a playoff spot.
Victor Hedman —Admittedly, Hedman has had an up and down year thus far. That said, for the most part, he has come as advertised and the Swede’s could use his size and grit on the backend. Hedman is a big-bodied D-man, capable of making big plays and excelling in the defensive zone.
Henrik Tallinder —Playing with the Buffalo Sabres, Tallinder does not get the kind of exposure that some of the other Swedish defensemen get. Those in the “Know” understand what Tallinder brings, a steady brand of defense and a decent first pass. He will be asked to play a little penalty kill and play 10-12 minutes a game.
Mattias Ohlund —Hard to keep a veteran like Ohlund off the roster. In a pinch, the Swedes can ask Ohlund to step into any situation and know that he will perform admirably. He'll probably get it as the team's seventh D-man, but his role could increase as the tournament moves on. Veteran leadership and experience is a must, Ohlund brings plenty of both of those attributes.
Henrik Lundqvist —Just when you thought you might see a weak spot in Team Sweden, you scroll down and see Lundqvist’ name. Henrik is one of the premier goalies in the League, as a member of the New York Rangers, and he’s accustomed to playing under the bright lights of New York City. Look for him to steal a game or two, and maybe, just maybe, steal the whole tournament.
Johan Hedberg —Has a 6-2-0 record through 10 games with the Thrashers. His 2.74 GAA and .910 SV percentage is more than adequate and, while I doubt he will see so much as a minute of ice time, he could do the job if called upon.
Jonas Gustavsson —Despite his recent heart troubles, Gustavsson will likely get an invite. Like Hedberg ahead of him, Gustavsson will not see much action, if any. His presence is more of an investment and will give Gustavsson a chance to experience the Olympics first hand.
His 6-5-5 record with the Toronto Maple Leafs is somewhat unimpressive, but he is a big part of Sweden’s future and, for that reason alone, he should be included.
***If not Gustavsson, it will be Los Angeles Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg in the three spot for Sweden.
As I stated earlier, this is a well balanced team. The Swedes are capable of beating any opponent and may very well emerge as the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs. A good mix of Veterans and youngsters should serve Sweden well and, when everything is said and done, Sweden may very well end up in the coveted Gold Medal game.
Let’s face it, Team Sweden is the “Rodney Dangerfield” hockey team of the Olympics, they get “No respect!”...That could be costly for teams that look past them.
Goaltending will be key, but that is the case with any team. Considering all of Sweden's strengths calling the Swedes a “Dark-horse” seems out of line, clearly they have the ability to win another Gold, they are after-all, the defending Champions!
Until next time,