The XXI Olympic Winter Games will be here in a flash with Vancouver becoming home to some of the greatest athletes in the world for a majestic two week period.
The Vancouver Canucks could boast as many as eight Olympians competing in men’s hockey. To celebrate this, Canucks.com will feature a different Olympic hopeful each Friday leading up to the games. This week we bring you Daniel Sedin.
With the 2010 Winter Olympics still a few calendar turns away, banter between Vancouver Olympians in the Canucks locker room is still focused on fantasy football playoffs.
In the coming weeks it’ll turn to the biggest hockey tournament there is and as defending champions and being two of only three Canucks with an Olympic gold medal, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have first dibs on trash talk.
Being the strong silent type, neither will take advantage of it. Daniel is keen on letting Team Sweden’s on ice performance speak for itself.
“A lot of people are talking about Canada and Russia, but there are few other teams that could surprise with some upsets too and right now I think we’re one of those teams,” said Daniel.
The fact that neither Sedin is offended about Sweden not being given much respect during the countdown to 2010 is par for the course with these workhorse assassins and also Tre Kronor.
The pressure for Sweden to repeat as champions is immense back in the Kingdom, but Daniel said being a world away helps him keep his mind on the challenge at hand and he’s able to ignore the jibber jabber going on about it.
Not surprisingly, Daniel likes Sweden’s change to become the first back-to-back winners of the men’s tournament since the Soviet Union was golden at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Yugoslavia and the 1988 Games in Calgary.
“Why Sweden has success is that we always seem to come together quickly and we really play for each other, we knew each other growing up and we played together before a lot of times and I think that’s a big advantage for us.
“Everyone is excited for this year especially with it being in Vancouver because the interest for hockey is going to be huge, that’ll be the number one sport for sure. In Italy it wasn’t the main thing, but this time it’ll be different.”
The Swedes will be different too. As a team there will be a lot of fresh faces abound, and as individuals, a lot of Swedish players have turned the corner and become even more prominent in the NHL since the 2006 Olympics in Torino.
Daniel and Henrik are tops on that list.
In 587 regular season contests with the Canucks since the 2006 Games, the Sedins have combined for 175 goals, 405 assists and 580 points. No more fourth-line for the twins, they’ll be front and centre for Sweden providing scoring chances at every turn.
“We played a smaller role I guess, but the good thing was that they made everyone feel important. We played a lot on the penalty kill in a third and fourth line role, but it was still fun because we were a big part of the team.
“We don’t know what kind of role to expect this year because there’s a lot of good Swedish players, but you always want to have a big role on the team and hopefully we get that.”
Not if, but when the Sedins turn the expectations of their homeland into another podium finish, I’ll once again be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Daniel.
While most kids in North America grow up with eyes for the National Hockey League first and playing for Team Canada second, there’s nothing youngsters in Sweden want more than to hold their heads high and go to battle in the yellow and blue.
“In Sweden the goal growing up is playing for the national team and of course the Olympics plays into that. Everybody in Sweden loves the Olympics, it’s the number one tournament so when I was younger I wanted to wear Sweden’s colours.
“The pride that comes with that is a big thing; it’s the same for the Canadian players putting on their jerseys, growing up that’s who you dream of playing for so when you get a chance to put that jersey on, it’s a big deal.”
Like the feeling of attacking an exquisitely wrapped gift on Christmas morning, the thrill of donning Sweden’s sweater has yet to lose its luster to Daniel. It’s as overwhelming today as it was in 1999 when he represented Sweden at the Men's World Ice Hockey Championships.
A bronze medal came of this early fitting in a Swedish jersey and the more comfortable he’s gotten in it, the better Sweden has performed.
Coincidence? Not by a long shot.