Defenseman Mattias Ekholm was named to Team Sweden’s roster on Friday for the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The addition swells the Nashville Predators representation in the World Cup to five, with Ekholm joining Filip Forsberg on Team Sweden and Pekka Rinne (Finland), Roman Josi (Team Europe) and Shea Weber (Canada) at the tournament as a whole.
Ekholm obliterated his previous career highs in points during the 2015-16 season with the Preds. The blueliner notched eight goals and 27 assists (35 pts), a total greater than his previous four years in the NHL combined.
“Like the Olympics, it’s the best [players] from Sweden, the defense group that we have is unbelievable. To be a part of that would be amazing,” Ekholm said on the Preds locker clean-out day. “It would be just a great experience for me personally. It’s so many quality defensemen that maybe [some of us] won’t get picked or what have you. It would still be a good experience, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s tough competition for sure.”
After a 12-year hiatus, the international tournament will return this fall to Toronto (Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, with TV coverage on ESPN) with eight teams vying for one of hockey’s most sought-after prizes. All of the Preds headed to the World Cup have previous experience skating for their countries, with Ekholm most recently playing for Sweden at the 2016 IIHF World Championship. But September’s event, with the grander stage of the World Cup, will be the first of its kind for all five Preds, just one more highlight to add to their careers.
“[I’ve been in] the World Championships a bunch of times, but this is a whole different atmosphere. As a player, it was a goal of mine going into the season and into the next season, to be on this World Cup team,” Rinne said earlier this year. “You have to treat the summer a little differently, and I'm sure it’s a good way to start the season, something to look forward to.”
The youngest player on Sweden’s roster, Forsberg says playing in the World Cup would be a memorable marker in his career timeline.
“It’s unbelievable to be a part of this. Growing up watching all of these players, and playing with a few of them and playing against all of them here in the NHL, it’s pretty extraordinary to be a part of that,” Forsberg said. “It’s probably going to be one of the best tournaments that’s ever been played in hockey history. It’s going to be a great experience for everyone that’s a part of it.”