Team Sweden Hockey Preview
UPDATE : This article was written over a year ago, as a preview of the Olympic Hockey Tournament. Please check out our updated Olympic Hockey Primer, and our full Podcast Preview of the Olympic Hockey Tournament.
Updating our 2010 Winter Olympic Ice Hockey Preview, today we examine Sweden, defending gold medalists after topping Finland 3-2 in the 2006 finals. Dubbed the Tre Kronor in their native land, Sweden is one of the most successful ice hockey nations in the world. In recent years, no one has had more success on the international scene except Canada. That’s impressive for a nation of less than 10 million people. The country is ranked 3rd in the latest IIHF rankings.
The name Tre Kronor means “Three Crowns” and refers to the three crowns on the team jersey which represent the lesser national coat of arms of the Kingdom of Sweden and the national emblem. Sweden pulled off a rare double in 2006, winning Olympic Gold and the World Championships, becoming the first country to ever to win both in the same year.
The national team has been coached by Bengt-Åke Gustafsson since 2005.
Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
Nicklas Bäckström, Washington Capitals
Markus Näslund, New York Rangers
Mats Sundin, Vancouver Canucks
Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Johan Franzén, Detroit Red Wings
Kristian Huselius, Columbus Blue Jackets
Tomas Holmström, Detroit Red Wings
Mikael Samuelsson, Detroit Red Wings
Samuel Påhlsson, Anaheim Ducks
Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues
The name that stands out on this list is Mats Sundin, who doesn’t even have a club team right now. While it looks reasonably certain he will play in the NHL sometime this season, projecting him for the Olympics a year from now is much more uncertain. We’ll make the assumption he is available for selection as he’s still technically active. Remember, guys like Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selänne went through similar situations last year and have continued playing (Update – Sundin signed with the Vancouver Canucks a few days after publication).
The situation concerning Sundin demonstrates a changing of the guard with Swedish forwards, as guys like Sundin, Alfredsson, Näslund, Holmström, Michael Nylander, and Peter Forsberg age. Most of these guys will still be around and viable candidates for the 2010 squad, but probably not all. We’ll project anyone that’s still active and productive to make the squad, but a number of spots could open up should guys retire or pass up the option of playing.
Of the younger guard, Zetterberg is the class of the group, and one of the NHL’s best players. He is supported by players like Daniel Sedin, Bäckström, and Franzén. In particular, Bäckström looks headed to be Sweden’s next big superstar. He’s almost there now. combining the newer stars with the older stars gives Sweden a strong scoring core. The remainder of the team is filled by veteran forwards that bring a two way presencesuch as Samuelsson and Påhlsson. A number of developing skaters like Robert Nilsson, Loui Eriksson and Patric Hörnqvist will also merit consideration for the final spots.
Nicklas Lidström, Detroit Red Wings
Mattias Öhlund, Vancouver Canucks
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
Kenny Jönsson, Rögle BK (SEL)
Henrik Tallinder, Buffalo Sabres
Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks
Victor Hedman, MoDo Hockey (SEL)
Lidström remains the best defensemen on the planet, even as he gets up there in years. He’s a lock if he wants in, and should be flanked by long-time teammates Öhlund and Jönsson. After those three, it begins to get murky. Kronwall and Tallinder should make the cut, but are not locks. Including those two, we’re up to five slots filled. That leaves two spots for the next wave of Swedish defenders.
Similar to the forwards, the defensive core of Sweden is also getting older. Unlike the forwards, it’s less clear cut who the next stars are going to be. Edler looks to have an edge right now over players like Tobias Enström of the Atlanta Thrashers or Anton Strålman of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Either of those players could easily slide into this unit, but I have them on the outside looking in. The last spot I left for uber-prospect Hedman. That’s may seem overly optimistic, even for a phenom like Hedman. But he’s that good and being a seventh defensemen is a great way to break into Olympic action. Swedish coaches are notorious for favoring veterans, so don’t be surprised if Hedman’s left off the actual squad. Just keep it mind that it may not be because of production.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Mikael Tellqvist, Phoenix Coyotes
Jacob Markström, Brynäs IF (SEL)
Lundqvist is the starter, that’s for sure. He’s played three season in the NHL and has been nominated for the Vezina trophy all three years. He was also Sweden’s goaltender when they captured the goal medal. You can make a pretty good argument he’s the best goalie in the world right now, and that’s a huge advantage in single elimination tournaments.
Behind Lundqvist it’s very unsettled. Tellqvist seem like the best bet to back-up, but he’s fighting with guys like Johan Holmqvist, Erik Ersberg, and Johan Hedberg. All are NHL caliber goalies, but none have managed to lock down a consistent starting gig. Each has one year to make their move. I’ve reserved the third spot for a younger guy, and Markström seems the best fit with his dominating SEL play. He’s been so good, that he may already be the second best goalie for Sweden.
Outlook: When you’re pulling the core of your team from the defending Stanley Cup champs, it’s not a bad thing. A number of the other guys come from the Vancouver Canucks, meaning a good portion of this team is familiar with each other. Sweden has generally done well at the Olympics, winning in ’06 and looking invincible in ’02 before a stunning loss to Belarus. Their style seems suited to the international ice, a slight problem since Vancouver will be using NHL-style rinks. But I’m not counting them out. Led by a great goaltender and a veteran core, this team is very dangerous and I’d expect anything less than a finals appearance to be a disappointment.