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Kronwall evolves into Sweden's leader on blue line

Sunday, 02.02.2014 / 3:00 AM / 2014 Olympics

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall was working out with the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League during the early part of the NHL's Olympic break eight years ago.

Lavish it wasn't, but Kronwall, then 25, only recently had returned from knee surgery and didn't think taking a vacation while more than 100 players went to play in the 2006 Turin Olympics.

He was right.

"I kept skating with them and out of the blue I get a phone call that says, 'Hey, they might need a body out there,'" Kronwall, now 33 and an alternate captain with the Detroit Red Wings, told NHL.com. "The next day I was on a flight [to Turin]. One day I was watching it on TV and the next day I was right in there. Everything just happened so quickly. [Mattias] Ohlund went down and all of a sudden I was playing in the gold-medal game."

In eight years, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall has gone from replacement player for Sweden at the 2006 Olympics to a key component of a team that will go to Sochi with gold medal hopes. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kronwall wasn't just playing in the gold-medal game against Finland; he scored the go-ahead goal in the second period. Sweden won gold with a 3-2 victory and Kronwall hasn't needed to make plans around the Olympic break since, as he's gone from last-minute replacement in 2006 to the expected leader on the back end for Tre Kronor at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Entering his third Olympics, Kronwall understands how much his role has changed even from 2010, when he was an 18-minute per game defenseman but still more of a role player on a team that featured Nicklas Lidstrom.

He's the sixth-oldest player on Sweden's 23-man roster behind Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Tallinder, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg. Kronwall is the second-oldest defenseman behind Tallinder, who is expected to be seventh or eighth on the depth chart.

Kronwall could play more than 20 minutes per game on a team that on paper has the requisite amount of skill, speed and patience to win gold on the big ice in Sochi.

"The older you get, I want to think the wiser you get somehow," Kronwall said. "I have to try to bring some calm to the table."

Kronwall is confident that he can because that's what he tries to do every day with the Red Wings.

He learned how to do it, to play with professionalism, poise, patience and a sense of calmness, from Lidstrom, who Kronwall is replacing as Sweden's leader on the back end.

"Just being around a guy like that helps you big time," Kronwall said. "To see his preparation on and off the ice, to see how he handles himself in all kinds of situations, on the ice in big games or off the ice with fans and media, it all helps you become a better person."

Kronwall thinks he has made the adjustment from role player to leader. His defense partner in Detroit and likely partner in the Olympics can confirm that he has.

Jonathan Ericsson looks up to Kronwall the way Kronwall used to look up to Lidstrom -- the apprentice who is trying to take on the traits of the mentor.

"All of a sudden now he's the oldest defensemen on the [Red Wings] and he's developed even better leadership qualities," Ericsson said. "He was always a leader but maybe a quiet leader. Now he's more vocal and he takes charge out there. He feels it's his responsibility to look after us as defensemen. He feels responsible for us. I have really seen a big difference. It's been a big change and he's really stepping up.

"For the Olympics now he's the same way. He'll be the oldest defensemen except Tallinder, but [Kronwall] will probably be playing more and he'll be the same player as he is with the Red Wings at the Olympics."

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2014 OLYMPICS POLL