As a seven-year-old kid, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman can remember sitting in his home, eyes glued to the TV watching the ice hockey final of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, between Sweden and Canada.
Sweden trailed 2-1 with less than two minutes to go when Magnus Svensson gave his team new life, his shot from the point deflecting off a skate and into the net to tie the game and send it to overtime.
After a scoreless extra frame, the game moved to a shootout, where Peter Forsberg converted in Round Seven and Tommy Salo saved Paul Kariya’s last-chance shot for Canada to give Sweden its first-ever Gold Medal in the Olympics.
“That (moment) lives strongly in my spine,” Stralman, a native of Tibro, Sweden, said.
Now, Stralman will have the opportunity to make memories for a new generation of Swedish youngsters.
On Wednesday, Stralman joined Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman as one of the first 16 players named to the Swedish roster for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, an international hockey championship from September 17 to October 1 in Toronto. Stralman has represented Sweden at the 2007, 2008 and 2009 World Championships but will be making his first appearance in the World Cup, which has been played just twice before (1996, 2004).
“The national team has always been my biggest dream as a hockey player, to play for my country,” Stralman said. “Back then, the coverage of the NHL wasn’t that great, so you didn’t really see much of the NHL. You just kind of knew about it, but you didn’t know what it was. My biggest goal as a player growing up was to play for the national team, so I’m obviously very excited to get this chance.”
Stralman and Hedman will likely pair together on a strong back line for Sweden, which figures to be one of the favorites to win the tournament.
“The chemistry we’ve had for these two seasons has been really, really good,” Hedman said. “…If we’re going to be paired together we don’t know yet, but best case scenario that’s going to be the case and we’re obviously very happy for one another. We worked hard to get there. It’s going to be a hard fight for ice time, but we’re going to do what we’re asked to do and do whatever it takes to win.”
Each of the eight teams – Russia, Finland, Czech Republic, Sweden, North America (the top 23 and younger players from the U.S. and Canada), Europe, Canada and the United States – released their preliminary roster on Wednesday. The finalized 23-man roster must be completed by June 1.
“It’s going to be the best of the best pretty much,” Hedman said. “It’s going to be a fun tournament for everyone watching and playing. For us, it’s a great way to start the season. I’m very excited about it. There’s going to be a lot of tough games obviously, but at the same time, that’s what we play hockey for is to play in this kind of event.
The Lightning will have 10 representatives at the World Cup.
“These are life events to get to play for your country,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Vladislav Namestnikov played for the Russian under-18 team but has yet to suit up for the men’s national team. He joins Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov on Russia’s World Cup roster.
“Growing up, you always watch all the tournaments, the World Cups and stuff at the international level,” Namestnikov said. “To be named to the roster is cool.”
Andrej Sustr and Ondrej Palat (Czech Republic), Valtteri Filppula (Finland), Steven Stamkos (Canada) and Ben Bishop (U.S.A.) were also selected Wednesday to represent their respective countries.
“For those guys to find a way on the team, and not only on the team but to be in the first 16, what a testament to what they’ve done this year,” Cooper said. “Even in our room today, the guys were really happy for them. It’s great. It’s fun to see, and it’ll be a great experience, especially for these young kids to play in this type of environment. It’s just going to help our guys in the future.”
The World Cup games will be played under NHL rules and on NHL-sized ice surfaces.