Jersey’s Team has a solid contingent of Olympic hopefuls, but Johnny Oduya became the first Devil to have his ticket punched for Vancouver when he was named to Team Sweden on Sunday.
“It’s obviously a great honor,” Oduya said Monday. “There were a lot of good players; a lot of good (defensemen), so (it was) tough competition and obviously I’m happy.”
Oduya was one of eight blueliners chosen to represent Sweden, which will try to defend its 2006 title. The Tre Kronor
will return 13 players from the team that defeated Finland in the gold medal match at Torino.
“It feels more like a bonus,” said Oduya. “I didn’t really know what to expect with getting picked or not. Like I said, I’m really happy. It’s going to be a tremendous experience, and it’s something that a lot of guys don’t have the chance of doing.”
The Olympic tournament gets underway on Feb. 16, and in the meantime, the 28-year-old Stockholm native wants to be at his best for the Devils. He scored in his Dec. 5 return from a lower body injury that cost him 15 games, but has not recorded a point in his last nine contests.
“Other than being really happy of being picked, it’s tough because it’s the middle of the year and you want to focus on what’s going on now and the team’s progress,” he said. “First off, I want to play well here and do good things here, and contribute to the team’s success. Come February, have fun and go there with high hopes. I don’t really know what to expect. It’s going to be a fun experience, I think.”
Oduya recalled Sweden’s victory over Canada for the 1994 gold medal in Lillehammer, Norway. Peter Forsberg’s famous shootout move on Corey Hirsch was so cherished in Sweden that it was commemorated on a postage stamp.
“It’s something that you remember and a lot of the Swedish people follow the tournament,” Oduya said. “It’s a big thing.”
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire will serve as an assistant for Canada, and has been pleased by how much Oduya has progressed from the beginning of the season. He was second among Devils defensemen last season with seven goals and 22 assists in 82 games.
“He’s starting to play much better than he did at the start,” Lemaire said. “I can see the talent that he has. If he keeps growing up to that point, it’ll be an important part. I feel it’s great for him.”
Some of Oduya’s teammates expect to have a say in Sweden’s bid to repeat. Martin Brodeur
is a shoo-in for Team Canada between the pipes, and Zach Parise
, Paul Martin and Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner are among the odds-on favorites for Team USA. Both Martin (‘06) and Langenbrunner (‘98) have represented the U.S. before, while Parise was a member of the U.S. World Junior squad that took gold in 2004. Patrik Elias
has suited up for the Czech Republic in the past two Olympic tournaments, and is likely to make his third trip in February. Canada and the Czech Republic unveil their rosters on Dec. 30. Team USA will follow with their announcement on New Year's Day.
For Brodeur, Oduya’s selection was noteworthy.
“Getting named to the national team is pretty impressive, especially when you look at the talent they have in Sweden,” Brodeur said. “For him to be in the top eight defensemen is something he should be proud of.”