It's an honor and privilege for almost any hockey player to represent their home country in an international competition, and Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg will get to do that for his native Sweden in September.
Soderberg was one of seven players added Friday to Team Sweden for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey as squads finalized their 23-man roster for the tournament.
Coming off a career year with the Avalanche, the 30-year-old had an inkling that he could be named to the World Cup team, but he also recognized that there were plenty of other talented Swedes playing in the NHL and abroad.
|Carl Soderberg celebrates his goal versus Germany at the World Junior Championship on Dec. 26, 2004 (Credit: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images). |
"I had that feeling," Soderberg said to ColoradoAvalanche.com on the possibility of being named to Sweden's roster. "I think there were about 10 guys fighting for the last few spots. So of course I was hoping. I'm very proud that I got on there."
The Malmo, Sweden, native has played for his nation in several smaller exhibitions and tournaments over the past few seasons, but he hasn't played on a stage as large as the World Cup since the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Wearing the tre kronor on his jersey and playing against the best in the world is something Soderberg is looking forward to.
"I remember the '96 World Cup. I thought that was a great tournament when the U.S. won against Canada," the 6-foot-3, 216-pound center said. "I think it's great for hockey for those two weeks, the best players are there. Even with the European team and a young Canada-U.S. team (Team North America), it's definitely going to be the best players in the world. It will be a great couple of weeks for all the fans and players."
The eight-team tournament takes place in Toronto, Ontario, from Sept. 16 to Oct. 1, the same time when NHL training camps are usually held. This means many players will have to make some adjustments to their usual offseason plans so they're ready to play at a high level earlier than when they might be accustomed to.
"Obviously, I'm going to have to start skating a little earlier and be ready to go by the beginning of September instead of the beginning of October," Soderberg said. "You have to start maybe a month earlier than normal."
Host nation Canada is the pre-tournament favorite and for good reason.
The Canadians have won back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics (2010 and 2014) and World Championships (2015 and 2016) and are the defending champions from the last time the World Cup was held in 2004.
Soderberg expects Sweden to be right up there with Canada when the competition gets underway. The Scandinavian nation has consistently ranked in the top five, if not number one, in the International Ice Hockey Federation world rankings for the past 10 years.
"We want to be the top club, and we want to win," the two-way forward said. "But after Canada, maybe we're one of the best teams—in my opinion, we are. You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself, but I think we all want to do a good job together."
Soderberg had a great first season with the Avalanche in 2015-16 after being acquired in a trade with the Boston Burins. He set career highs with 51 points and 39 assists in 82 games and was a reliable contributor on both sides of special teams. Soderberg had 14 power-play points, tied for fifth most on the squad, and led all Avs forwards in total penalty-kill ice time.
He'll likely be asked to do much of the same on a highly skilled Sweden squad that also includes Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, who was named to the team in the first round of roster announcements on March 2.
"I think they want to use me in the penalty kill, first and foremost," Soderberg said. "We have a lot of good offense, like Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Nicklas Backstrom and those guys. My role is going to be playing the best lines of the other teams and playing some penalty kill. That's what I think."
Soderberg is one of seven Colorado players named to World Cup teams and said it would be a new experience for him to play against his fellow teammates just weeks before the NHL season begins. However, getting a chance to help Sweden to a championship is well worth it.
"You always want to play for your country and represent your nation," Soderberg said. "I think it is a little bit different when you play for a team the whole season like the Avs; they are your teammates and now I get to play against them. That part will be a little bit of a change.
"I think after the Stanley Cup, the World Cup and Olympics are the best to win."