Henrik Lundqvist can still remember back to his childhood, watching the Swedish National Team on television and hoping to one day have the opportunity to wear the colors of his nation on the international stage.
Lundqvist will have another chance to do that starting Sunday, as Team Sweden opens up the 2016 World Cup of Hockey against Russia at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
"That's how it all started for me," Lundqvist said of his hockey dreams, which have turned into more than he could have imagined with a Gold Medal in 2006 and more than a decade of staring on Broadway with the Rangers that includes a Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender in 2012. "I was 5 or 6 years old watching hockey on TV and it was the National Team. Back then, it was hard to watch the NHL living in Sweden. I think my first goal in hockey was to play for my country."
The World Cup marks the 10th time Lundqvist will represent Sweden on the international stage, including three Olympics and one World Championship. While the focus is always on playing well, Lundqvist also knows how important it is to enjoy the moment because of how special each one is.
"There's so many different things that make it very unique and special when you get together," Lundqvist said in a recent phone interview with BlueshirtsUnited.com. "Obviously you try to play at your best, but at the same time, really enjoy the moment as well when you're here representing your country."
What sets the World Cup apart from other tournaments, according to Lundqvist, is the time of the tournament. At this point on the calendar, most players are easing back into the flow of the season in training camp and some preseason games. For a goaltender like Lundqvist, that often meant playing half of a preseason game before starting one or two at the end of the schedule to gear up for the regular season. Here, though, right from the start the intensity is that of a playoff game.
"It's definitely a challenge to try and get yourself to top level early," Lundqvist admitted. "You only have a couple of games to get going and get the team ready. There are so many different things you need to point out and go over because everybody is used to a different type of system and a different type of approach.
"For over a month," Lundqvist continued, "you're practicing on your own and then we got together here over a week ago and started working on all the details. It's definitely exciting. It's definitely a test to play in this tournament. A lot of great players. It will be challenging but fun at the same time to see how we can do."
Sweden is expected to be one of the favorites heading into the eight-team, round robin tournament that began last night in Toronto. While there are favorites, Lundqvist said in a tournament like this with so much talent on every team, it's anyone's game.
While the No. 1 focus in Lundqvist's mind is taking home the World Cup for Sweden, he can't help but also look ahead to a return to New York and another season with the Rangers. Lundqvist said he enjoyed his time back home in Sweden during the offseason, but is also itching to get back to the Big Apple.
"I'm super excited to get back to New York," Lundqvist said. "I had a great summer, but [the season] ended too early last year. You have the opportunity to be home a little bit longer here, especially with the start of camp with Sweden but you miss New York, you miss the city and mostly you miss your teammates and playing at The Garden.
"It's definitely this time of year when the excitement starts to go up and the adrenaline starts to kick in and you just want to get going," Lundqvist added. "You can feel it's getting close. Right now, all the focus is on Sunday and starting the World Cup, but at the back of my head, I know another season is just around the corner. It feels really good."