by Alan Adams
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC -- Henrik Lundqvist
's idea of starting a playoff tradition in the Swedish locker-room was not catching on.
Since arriving in the Czech Republic as the No. 1 goalie with the Swedish National Team, Lundqvist has been growing a beard. He equates the 16-day tournament to a NHL playoff series and follows the NHL close enough to know that beards as part of the NHL ritual.
But outside of Daniel Alfredsson - who never shaved his post-season beard after the Ottawa Senators were eliminated - no one else wasn't shaving.
"I think I am the only one on the team but someone has to do it," says Lundqvist.
Truth be known, Lundqvist can't wait to sprout a playoff beard with the New York Rangers, who made him their seventh pick, 205th overall, in the 2000 NHL draft.
And as far as late draft picks go, Lundqvist may turn out to be one of the best steals ever.
Lundqvist has starred for Vastra Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League over the past two seasons. He played in 48 regular season games this season and his 2.17 goals against average and .917 save percentage were most respectable. Last season, he took over as the club's starting goaltender at the tail end of the regular season and helped lead Vastra Frolunda to the Swedish Elite League championship.
He's been the backbone of the Swedish National Team here at the pressure-packed 2004 IIHF World Championship and is a main reason why the Swedes could end up winning the gold medal.
"He has been awesome and from what I have heard he has been pretty good in Sweden this year as well," said Alfredsson. "Henrik looks much more like a European goalie than an NHL goalie. He is big and he challenges the shooter pretty well and his biggest asset is his patience in the net. He does not go down too early. He waits for the shooter to make the first move and that is his greatest asset."
Lundqvist follows the NHL, especially the Rangers and his goal is to join the Blueshirts next season, even if it means going to the minors.
"It would be great to play in the NHL and from the time I was drafted by the Rangers, that has been my dream and my goal to play some day in the league," he says. "The Rangers are such a great club ... yes they have not been so successful in the last few years, but it is a great franchise. The Rangers have such a great history."
"It would be great to just skate with the guys in the camp next fall. I am looking forward to the camp and I am hopeful the Rangers will sign me."
Lundqvist knows it's a big step from Sweden to the NHL but it's one he feels he is ready to make. He just hopes the Rangers have confidence in him.
"I am having a great time in Sweden and I am playing for the club I always wanted to play for. It (Frolunda) has been my favorite club since I was a kid and I want the Rangers to believe in me before I step over," he says. "I am not going over just for the sake of going over. I want to feel that the Rangers really believe in me before I step over.
"I think I am ready, maybe not the NHL, but if I had to spend one or two years in the minors I will take that. But it feels like the right time to come over. I have been playing good in Sweden and with the National Team for two years."
It's not always an easy transition from the wider ice surface used in European arenas to the narrower sheets in NHL arenas. The angles are different and the game is different. But Lundqvist is not worried.
"I think it will fit my game because I have an aggressive style," he says. "I like to come out and challenge the shooter."
And like all Swedes, he follows how his countrymen are doing in the NHL and in Lundqvist's case, he has kept an eye on Tommy Salo when he played for Edmonton and now Colorado, along with Michael Telqvist of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rangers Interim Head Coach and Vice President of Player Development Tom Renney has been watching Lundqvist for years and says he'll challenge for a job sooner than people expect.
"He has a bright future," says Renney, who is an associate coach on Team Canada. "We want to bring him along properly. The way he has played here and having had the opportunity to have him (at a prospects camp last year) he has given us no reason to think otherwise.
"Henrik wants the shooter. He wants the puck. He is not afraid to come out and take down the angle. He has good reflexes and he is a good athlete and he will have to get adjusted to the narrower rink and a different look at the attack but that is all part of the process."
Renney likes the fact that Lundqvist knows he may have to spend some time in the minors.
"It seems to me his disposition is where you want it to be in a goaltender. Certainly in our organization it is a position we want to be stronger in and with Dan Blackburn and Henrik on the horizon and Mike Dunham in place to help us now, these young players will push people."
Lundqvist was born in southern Sweden but grew up in rugged northern region of the country. His father is a sports enthusiast who taught the King of Sweden, King Gustaf XVI to ski.
Lundqvist has a twin, Joel, who was a third round pick by the Dallas Stars in 2000 and it's because of Joel he's a goalie.
"When we played road hockey someone had to play net," he says. "Maybe I will get to face him one day. I know his moves."
That day may not be too far off.RELATED LINKS:IHWC.NET - Q&A with Lundqvist >>