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First-time Olympians thrilled for chance

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings forward Tomas Jurco has represented his home country in three different international tournaments. But, like four of his Red Wings' teammates, this month he'll play in his first Olympics. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – There’s a first time for everything.

For five Red Wings players, another career milestone is looming in the near future, as they prepare to participate in their first Winter Olympic Games.

“It’s a huge thing, I’m really excited,” forward Tomas Tatar said. “I’m looking forward to it. Everything around what’s going to happen there it sounds to me like it’s going to be really exciting so I just can’t wait.”

Tatar joins fellow Slovakian Tomas Jurco, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, forward Gustav Nyquist and goalie Jimmy Howard as the five first-time Olympians in Detroit’s dressing room out of the 10 players selected from the club to represent their countries in Sochi this month.

“It means a lot,” Howard said. “Every time you get to represent your country, no matter what stage it’s on, it’s an honor and it’s a special moment not only for yourself but your family as well.”

Nyquist, who received word last Sunday that he was replacing teammate Johan Franzen on Sweden’s roster, is looking forward to joining five of his Swedish Wings teammates in Sochi.

“Huge honor to be representing your country in the Olympics,” Nyquist said. “It’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m real excited to join so many guys in the locker room. It’s going to be a good time, something I’ll remember forever.”

For Jurco, representing Slovakia on the Olympic stage is a privilege second to none. The 21-year-old strives to wear his country’s jersey with honor, which he hopes will bring proud smiles to those who matter most in his life.

“Every time I wear it I try to make my family and friends proud so it’s kind of playing for all those people in my life,” Jurco said. “That’s why it’s different, that’s what I like about it.

“We’re going to try to make all of our family and friends happy back home. I figure I do that, I’m going to be real excited for that, to make them happy.”

The players have plenty to be excited about, including Olympic Village, where they will brush elbows and share living quarters with some of the world’s greatest athletes.

“Yeah I’m really excited to be at Olympic Village, meet maybe other players because during our season’s it’s kind of hard to meet those guys, they traveling a lot, so is we,” Tatar said. “There’s going to be everybody in one spot so I’m really looking forward to it.”

But as far as anyone in particular, Tatar couldn’t decide which Olympians he looks forward to meeting most.

“I don’t know, skiers … I don’t know, bobsledders?” Tatar asked. “I have no clue I just want to see maybe some. It’s going to be interesting to be with all those people in one spot so I’m really excited actually, looking forward.”

Although there will be a number of new faces in Sochi, there will be many familiar ones as well, including one that Ericsson has known from the day he was born: his older brother and Team Sweden teammate, Jimmie.

“I’m really looking forward to that,” Ericsson said. “Nothing I really thought was going to happen really so for us to kind of peak at the same moment, he’s four years older than me, and to both be able to play in the Olympics together is going to be an incredible experience and a memory that I’ll cherish forever.”

With 10 players from the Wings’ dressing room participating in the Olympics, including six who will be suiting up for Sweden, the NHL teammates are bound to run into each other on and off the ice.

There hasn’t been much chirping between the players about becoming Olympic competitors yet, but a few silent actions haven’t gone unnoticed.

“Not as big as I expect but maybe still coming,” Tatar said. “So funny how guys get like Swedish hats so they have something extra I guess. It’s kind of upsetting me.”

Ericsson is one of the players who has been spotted wearing a Team Sweden cap in Detroit’s dressing room, and although he doesn’t mean for it to bother his teammates, he couldn’t help but smile knowing his country’s colors were already on their minds.

“It’s not about upsetting anyone but we just got those hats when we got our new gloves and stuff like that,” Ericsson said. “It’s just a hat that’s laying in my locker right now. It’s nothing to offend anyone but if it can get under his skin for the Olympics, that’s good.”

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