DETROIT -- The call of his home country was stronger than that of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Gustav Nyquist.
This Saturday, Windsor, Ontario native Paul Reddam, owner of thoroughbred horse Nyquist, will be at the Kentucky Derby watching as his horse tries to live up to his favorite status.
Reddam has lived in California since 1979 but he has remained a diehard fan of the Red Wings, naming several of his horses after Wings players.
Needless to say, Nyquist is the best of all of the horses named for Red Wings.
The plan is to have the Stanley Cup visit Nyquist's stall Saturday morning at Churchill Downs.
Reddam invited the hockey-playing Nyquist to sit in the owner's box at the Kentucky Derby but Nyquist committed to play for Team Sweden in the International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Championship which started today in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Although he won't be there, Nyquist is rooting for his namesake.
"It’s great that he’s doing well," Nyquist said after the Wings cleaned out their lockers. "It’s fun, seeing that he’s going to be the favorite here for Kentucky so I’m hoping he’s going to run a good race and wins it."
The Wings were not able to win this season, something that bothers Nyquist a lot.
"Obviously a most disappointing season for us," Nyquist acknowledged. "Another disappointing season where we’re out in the first round and it’s just not good enough. We think we have a better team than that in here and we have higher hopes than that. It’s not good enough to be out in the first round. We’ve been obviously able to make the playoffs here for a long time but for a while now we haven’t been able to go on a run. That’s disappointing."
The Wings scored only 211 goals, fewer than all but four teams in the Eastern Conference and three in the Western Conference.
"It’s been like this for a few years now where we had a lot of skill, we think we have a lot of guys that can score but we just haven’t been able to pucks in the net," Nyquist said. "I’m sure everyone on the team – management, coaches and us, too – have been trying to come up with ways to score more goals because it’s been a problem over the last few years. We haven’t been able to do it and it’s been disappointing for sure."
After scoring 28 goals in the 2013-14 season and 27 goals last season, Nyquist managed to score just 17 goals this past season.
Tomas Tatar led the team with 29 goals in the 2014-15 season but fell to 21 this past season.
The Wings need players like Nyquist, 26, and Tatar, 25, to pick up the scoring slack as players like Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are getting older and Pavel Datsyuk is considering retirement.
"They didn’t play as many minutes, didn’t play as many quality minutes," general manager Ken Holland said. "Year before Tats played part of the year with Pavel Datsyuk. They went from 55 combined goals to 38-39, part of it was the power play, power play wasn’t as good, part of it was they didn’t get as many quality minutes because there weren’t as many and Mike Babcock played them more. In the grand scheme of things, they’re still relatively young. They’re good players, really good players."
Coach Jeff Blashill said Nyquist, Tatar, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha are among those who are expected to step up to help the Wings get better.
"But ultimately for us to be better come the fall we’re going to need guys to take that step to elite players," Blashill said. "And it’s not going to be 10 (players). It’s going to be one or two and help in that transition from Pav and Z."
Nyquist knows he can be one of those players and plans to work hard in the world championship and in the offseason to get there.
"A lot of guys didn’t reach to their potential this year," Nyquist said. "Obviously for myself I just wasn’t able to put the puck in the net as much as last year and for sure that’s on me. I’ve just got to be better."
Perhaps as a good omen for the Kentucky Derby and for the Wings next season, Nyquist scored the game-winner in overtime in Team Sweden's world championship opener against Latvia.