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Olympic Hockey Preview 2006: Sweden
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
Feb 18, 2006 - 3:41:00 AM

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2006 Men’s Olympic Hockey Preview: Sweden

2002 Result: After a memorable upset by Belarus (you remember, the game where the puck went in off Tommy Salo’s head from center ice) the Swedes finished fifth.
Since then: Bronze at the 2002 World Championships, silver at the 2003 and 2004 Worlds.


Players are listed in probable combinations with their NHL city or Swedish league city in parentheses.

Forwards (LW-C-RW):
1.    Fredrik Modin (Tampa Bay) – Mats Sundin (Toronto) – Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa)
2.    Tomas Holmstrom (Detroit)* – Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit) – Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit)
3.    Daniel Sedin (Vancouver) – Henrik Sedin (Vancouver) – Jorgen Jonsson (Karlstad)
4.    Per-Johan Axelsson (Boston) – Samuel Pahlsson (Anaheim) – Mika Hannula (Jonkoping)

Extra: Peter Forsberg (center, Philadelphia)

1.    Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit) – Kenny Jonsson (Rogle)
2.    Mattias Ohlund (Vancouver) – Christian Backman (St. Louis)
3.    Niclas Havelid (Atlanta)** – Daniel Tjarnqvist (Minnesota)***

Extra: Ronnie Sundin (Goteborg)****

1.    Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers)
2.    Mikael Tellqvist (Toronto)
3.    Stefan Liv (Jonkoping)

*injury replacement for Markus Naslund (winger, Vancouver)
**injury replacement for Kim Johnsson (defenseman, Philadelphia)
***injury replacement for Niklas Kronwall (defenseman, Detroit)
****injury replacement for Mattias Norstrom (defenseman, Los Angeles)

Key Performer: Henrik Zetterberg. With Peter Forsberg’s health uncertain at best, Zetterberg slides into his second line center spot. If Forsberg returns, Zetterberg might move over to his left side, taking up the scorer’s spot there vacated by the injured Markus Naslund, or even to a spot on the right side of checking line with Sami Pahlsson and PJ Axelsson. In any case, Zetterberg’s performance will be key as Sweden tries to find supporting offense for their big line of Sundin, Modin, and Alfredsson, and his talent, solid two-way game and versatility make him a candidate for a spot on any line. He’s having a great season offensively in Detroit, led the Swedish Elite League in points last year, and is one of Sweden’s best young stars.

How They’ll Win:

1.    If Forsberg is healthy, Sweden has one of the best three-line attacks in this tournament. The top line of Sundin, Modin, and Alfredsson, all three of whom were among the leading scorers at the World Cup in 2004, leads the way; they have size, talent, and speed, and with Alfredsson enjoying his best season yet in the NHL they could all end up at the top of the scoring list in this tournament too. On the second line, Forsberg will miss Markus Naslund, but having Zetterberg, Holmstrom or both on his wings would be good consolation. The Sedin twins, who are having their best offensive seasons to date in the NHL as well, will anchor the third line, likely with either Detroit winger Mikael Samuelsson or steady veteran Jorgen Jonsson on the right. It’s a deep, dangerous attack, one of the best around, and they’re the most notable feature of this Swedish team.

2.    A big, mobile defense has been a mainstay of the Swedish national team for years, and this squad is no different. Any team that can boast workhorses Nicklas Lidstrom and Mattias Ohlund has a great advantage. Lidstrom is perhaps the best defenseman in the world, and is once again proving it in Detroit, while Ohlund has once again been strong in Vancouver with his steady play. Niclas Havelid has surprised many by taking hold of the number one defenseman’s spot in Atlanta, though he was a late addition to this team, and he should see a lot of ice time as well.

3.    With a lot of teams adding players based mostly on talent, Sweden has an advantage in that they have what’ll almost certainly be the best shut down line in Turin. Pahlsson, Axelsson and either Hannula or Jonsson will play mostly against the opponent’s top lines, kill penalties, and generally drive the opposition nuts. Axelsson in particular has really come into his own this season, and many people who watch the Bruins still rave about a three-game stretch he had in late January during which he shut down New York’s Jaromir Jagr, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk in consecutive games. Pahlsson has proven himself the last few seasons in Anaheim as their best defensive forward, and Hannula and Jonsson are both great defensive players in the Swedish league. They won’t necessarily win a lot of praise, but they’ll get all the toughest assignments.

How They’ll Lose:

1.    While Sweden has some of the best defensemen in the world on their team, their defense has also been hit hard by injuries and it may be tough for the guys that are left to cope. Kim Johnsson bowed out because his pregnant wife is due during the Olympics, Niklas Kronwall has batteld an injury all season long and didn’t feel ready for this level of competition yet after recently returning, and Mattias Norstrom has a concussion. And while they’re pretty good, the three guys added to the team, Havelid, Dan Tjarnqvist, and Ronnie Sundin, just aren’t the equal of Johnsson, Kronwall, and Norstrom. That means even more pressure, and minutes, on Lidstrom and Ohlund, plus additional time for young Christian Backman, who just might not be ready for that kind of responsibility at this level.

2.    Henrik Lundqvist has been great for New York this season. Swedish fans must be even happier than Ranger fans that Lundqvist has burst onto the scene so forcefully, because until he did so the national team goaltending situation was looking quite bleak indeed. However, with Tommy Salo and his blunder against Belarus a distant memory, Sweden still has to look at their goaltending situation and wonder if they have the experience to win at a tournament of this magnitude. Backup Tellqvist is 26 and only this season established himself as an NHL goaltender in Toronto behind Eddie Belfour, though he did start for Sweden at the 2004 World Cup. Stefan Liv, a Red Wings prospect, is only 25 and has only his Swedish league experiences and a handful of international games to fall back upon. Lundqvist is the youngest of the three at 23; he’s been brilliant this season, just as he was the last two years in Sweden, but he still has a lot to prove at this level. He wasn’t very good at the 2005 Worlds, though he was very good in 2004, just as Tellqvist was the year before that as Sweden scored back-to-back silver medals. It’s a very young goaltending group that has rarely faced the kind of pressure and competition that’ll come in this tournament. That has to be a concern for Sweden.

3.    It sounds a little trite, but this Swedish team has really developed a knack for getting upset. In the 1998 Olympics, Sweden was upset by Finland in the quarterfinals, despite a superior offense. Everyone remembers the 2002 Olympic team upset to Belarus, of course, where Swedish newspapers the day after the upset ran pictures of all the Swedish players with the tagline “criminals!” above them. With a chance to redeem themselves at the 2002 Worlds that were held at home in Sweden, the tournament favourites had to settle for a bronze medal. Another upset occurred at the 2004 World Cup, where the Swedes were only able to score one goal against a Czech team that had looked completely disinterested in the tournament before their 6-1 win in the quarterfinal. While the Swedes are perpetual contenders and have had some good results at tournaments the past few years, the reality is that their last major international gold medal was at the 1998 Worlds. It’s a disturbing trend the Swedes will have to put behind them in Turin.

The Bottom Line: With a complete defense and a healthy Peter Forsberg, the Swedes might be gold medal favorites. As it is, however, Sweden’s got an awful lot to overcome in a short period of time, and it seems unlikely that they can do so. Fifth place for Sweden.

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