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Nylander helping Sweden in its historic quest

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers center Michael Nylander has a chance to become part of international hockey history this weekend.

Nylander, the Rangers' No. 2 scorer with 79 points in 2005-06, is playing with the Swedish national team at the 2006 World Championship tournament in Riga, Latvia, as Sweden attempts to become the first country in hockey history to win both the Olympic gold medal and World Championship gold in the same year.

Sweden will face Canada on Saturday in the second of two World semifinals. The opening game will pit Finland against a Czech Republic team that includes Rangers prospect Martin Richter. Semifinal winners will play for the gold medal on Sunday.

Although he was not part Sweden's 2006 Olympic team, Nylander has a long history with Swedish international squads. The chance to help his nation pull off the first ever Olympic-World sweep is particularly meaningful to a player who has worn the famed Tre Kronor jersey at 14 major international tournaments over the past 15 years.

Nylander is one of only five NHL players on the current Swedish team, and he did not arrive in Latvia until the Swedes had already played three of their seven games to date. At the time he joined them, the Swedes had gone 2-0-1 in the preliminary round. Nylander helped them to a 1-1-1 record in the qualifying round and a convincing 6-0 win over Team USA in the tournament's quarterfinals.

Through his first four tournament games, Nylander has a goal and three assists. With Nylander in the lineup for three qualifying-round games, Sweden beat Belarus 4-1 on May 12, fell to Slovakia 5-2 on May 14 and tied Russia 3-3 on Monday 15. In the quarterfinal win over the Americans on Wednesday, Nylander had two assists.

Nylander has won gold at the World Championships once before. In 1992, as a 19-year-old, he was part of a victorious Swedish team that won the second of back-to-back titles. At that time, Nylander had not yet played in the NHL. Since coming to North America in the fall of 1992, he has rejoined Team Sweden for seven more World tournaments, winning three silver medals and two bronze medals.

Although Sweden is bidding to become the first nation to win the Olympic and World championships in the same year, this has only been an issue since 1992. Prior to that year, World Championships were not held in Olympic years, with the exception of 1972 and 1976. Since 1992, all four Olympic winners have been unable to complete the sweep in the Worlds, and none of those four teams fared better than a bronze medal.

Other NHL players on Team Sweden in Latvia include Detroit's Niklas Kronwall, Mikael Samuelsson, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. Three of the Red Wings -- Kronwall, Samuelsson and Zetterberg -- were also part of the Swedish Olympic team that beat Finland for the gold medal.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who also won Olympic gold with Sweden at Torino in February, is not part of this World Championship team but does have a strong connection to it. That's because Lundqvist's twin brother, Joel, is playing in Latvia. Through six World tournament games, Joel Lundqvist has one goal. Joel spent the 2005-06 regular season with the Vastra Frolunda Indians in Gothenburg. His NHL rights are held by the Dallas Stars, who drafted him in 2000 - the same year that the Rangers selected his twin.

In addition to Nylander, the Swedish team includes three former Rangers players - Ronnie Sundin, Johan Holmqvist and Samuelsson. Both Sundin and Holmqvist are also former Blueshirts draft picks.
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