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 Henrik Sedin.
Most Canadian hockey fans remember where they were on February 24, 2002, when Canada’s men’s team walked over the Americans 5-2 to win gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
I was working in the automotive department at Canadian Tire, neglecting customers like crazy to watch Canada end its 50-year gold medal drought on what seemed like a 5-inch TV in the customer waiting area. Talk about standard definition.
Henrik Sedin can’t quite recall where he took in that game, or if he did at all. All he cared about was Team Sweden and after they lost to Belarus in the quarter-finals in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history, he lost his appetite for the 2002 Games.
That certainly wasn’t the case in 1994 when Henrik was fully emerged in the Olympic gold medal final between Sweden and Canada.
Most Swedish hockey fans remember where they were on February 25, 1994, when Sweden’s men’s team outdueled the Canadians to win gold, the country’s first, at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway.
“I was only 13 or 14 at the time but I remember it like it was yesterday,” smiled Henrik, who played for Ångermanland, a boys under-17 team, at the time.
“I was in the car with my family listening to the radio on my way home from a hockey game. It was so crazy with Forsberg’s penalty shot and the Salo save on Paul Kariya’s shot, that was huge.
“It was the first Olympic gold for Sweden in men’s hockey and it was such a big team, especially with how they came back in the finals and in the semis too. It was one of the biggest moments in our history for sure.”
Forsberg’s golden goal, a one handed slide in score, became all the rage in Sweden and it, along with the championship win, inspired Henrik. One day he wanted to do his country proud and lead Tre Kronor to another gold medal.
Twelve years later, Henrik made that a reality.
Both Sedins were members of Team Sweden at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, where the Swedes edged Team Finland 3-2 in the gold medal final.
The record books state that Henrik finished the tournament with three goals and an assist in eight games, but he can’t confirm this as his first Olympic experience is still a bit overwhelming.
"Looking back, we were really fortunate just to be a part of the Olympic experience and then to win, it was crazy. It’s something I’ll always remember for sure.
"Everything went right for us. We won the right games, we lost to the Slovaks in the round robin, which gave us a little bit of an easier route to the finals and all of the guys who were having great years over here came over and really kept playing at their peak."
Big names like Daniel Alfredsson, Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and PJ Axelsson combined for 30 points in the tournament to lead the charge for Sweden. Four years later things are a lot different for the blue and yellow heading into the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Alfredsson is slowing down with age, Sundin has walked away from hockey, Forsberg is still trying to find his game and Axelsson, well, he’s still chugging along.
It’s time for others to step up to the plate and Henrik said the players are well aware of that.
“We’ve got a lot of younger guys coming up now that are 30-goal scorers in this league right now that nobody really thinks about so I think we’ve got a good shot.
“We’ve always won with defensive kind of hockey where you need all five guys on the ice to be on the same page. We’ve never had the best team in any tournament and we’ve had to win by playing good team hockey and really coming together quickly.”
Since the 2006 Games Henrik has also changed as a player having grown into a point-a-game player for the Canucks, and he’s taken that up a notch this season with 38 points through 32 games to sit third overall in NHL scoring.
Naturally he’ll be looked upon to dizzy defenders like never before at the 2010 Games.
“In Torino we had a smaller role,” Henrik said of him and Daniel. “They look to get every player one certain role and me and Danny, back then we were offensive guys here maybe, but in Torino we played on the PK and had a lot of defensive roles. It’ll be the same again, everyone gets their role and everyone has to do it the best they can.”
The pressure for Sweden to defend their gold medal is growing by the day, “especially because it’s in Vancouver and everyone knows it’s a hockey market and they know that to win it here would be something extra special," and even though the Games are still a few months away and rosters have yet to be set, Henrik already has his dream gold medal matchup and result in mind.
“Sweden vs. Canada, with Sweden winning in overtime.”