The Olympic gold title defense for Sweden is set to begin this week with the introduction of the first 34 candidates to wear the blue and gold of Tre Kronor in Vancouver.
The Swedish Ice Hockey Association will amass the initial roster candidates on Thursday and Friday at a press conference at a golf club in the city of Molndal, a suburb of Gothenburg.
All 34 players nominated have NHL ties and range from All-Stars (Nicklas Lidstrom
, Henrik Lundqvist) to prospects (Carl Gunnarsson, Tom Wandell). Conveniently, the candidates are all in Sweden for the press conference and Swedish officials can collect paperwork and signatures and provide anti-doping information from the Swedish Olympic Committee that marks the beginning of their consideration. Notable names missing from the list are Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Johan Franzen
, Patrik Berglund, and Mikael Samuelsson, suggesting they are not currently living or vacationing in their homeland.
Coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, "All could not be there, simply." Explaining the inclusion of several longshots such as Gunnarsson (Toronto), Wandell (Dallas) and goaltending prospects Daniel Larsson
(Detroit) and Jhonas Enroth (Buffalo), Gustafsson said, "There is no upper limit. We can nominate how many we want. Sometime in September, we shall submit the entire list."
The final 23-man roster does not have to be submitted to the International Ice Hockey Federation until Dec. 31. Currently, there is no plan for the Swedes to hold an on-ice training camp.
Backstrom and the Sedin twins are no-brainers to play in Vancouver. They were the top three Swedish born and trained scorers in the NHL last season and totaled 75 goals and 177 assists.
The 34 players include 10 from the 2006 gold medal-winning squad at the Torino Games -- Daniel Alfredsson, P.J. Axelsson, Tomas Holmstrom
, Niklas Kronwall
, Lidstrom, Lundqvist, Fredrik Modin, Mattias Ohlund, Samuel Pahlsson and Henrik Zetterberg
Four of the players -- Kronwall, Lidstrom, Modin and Zetterberg -- are members of the 22-man Triple Gold Club, winners of the Stanley Cup, the IIHF World Championship and Olympic gold. Samuelsson is also an active member.
Four years ago in Torino, Lundqvist played six of Sweden's eight games and posted a 5-1 record. His backups then, Mikael Tellqvist and Stefan Liv, will not be in Molndal. Aside from Lundqvist, who again figures to be the starter, the other goalie candidates named are Enroth, Erik Ersberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Larsson.
Gustavsson was signed as a free agent by Toronto earlier this month and is projected to be the backup to Vesa Toskala. Last season he led the Elitserien -- Sweden's top league -- with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in 42 regular-season games en route to winning the championship with Farjestads BK Karlstad.
Enroth and Larsson will probably begin 2009-10 in the American Hockey League, and Ersberg is competing for a backup job in Los Angeles.
Mats Sundin, who captained Sweden to the gold in 2006, announced in June that he does not want consideration to play in 2010. "There will be no Olympics in Vancouver for me next year," Sundin was quoted on the Web site of Swedish newspaper Expressen. "I will not change my mind. I think it's time that the next generation takes over. We have many good players."
The odds-on favorite to captain Tre Kronor becomes Lidstrom, who captained the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008. Lidstrom has also played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Games.
"I want to get started with the NHL season first before I make the final decision if I should play in the Olympics or not," the 39-year-old told the Swedish newspaper Expressen. "I want to be (in Molndal) and hear what the Hockey Federation and Olympic Committee for the games in Vancouver have to say.
"I don't deny that participating in a fourth Olympic Games entices me."
Tre Kronor veterans Markus Naslund and Kenny Jonsson retired earlier this year.
The availability of Swedish legend Peter Forsberg is unknown at this time, as he has battled a variety of groin and foot injuries that have halted his NHL career. Forsberg, a three-time Olympian and two-time gold medal winner (1994, 2006) appeared in only three games with Modo Ornskoldsvik last season, scoring a goal and three points. Forsberg, who recently turned 36, is a Triple Gold club member.
The Elitserien, one of the top professional leagues in the world which opens its regular season on Sept. 21, will also produce candidates for Vancouver. In 2006, Sweden's roster featured five players who were not from NHL rosters.
"Oh yeah, there are many interesting names," Gustafsson said of candidates from the Elitserien. "We will nominate many, then we out the final squad much later. It is time to go more than half of the season so everyone has ample time to show up."
Last season, nine of the 14 leading scorers in the Elitserien were Swedes. The five goaltenders with the lowest goals-against averages were also natives.
2010 Swedish Olympic candidatesGoaltenders (5):
Jhonas Enroth, Erik Ersberg, Jonas Gustavsson, Daniel Larsson
, Henrik Lundqvist
Daniel Alfredsson, P.J. Axelsson, Fabian Brunnstrom
, Loui Eriksson, Tomas Holmstrom
, Kristian Huselius, Patric Hornqvist, Joel Lundqvist, Fredrik Modin, Robert Nilsson, Michael Nylander, Samuel Pahlsson, Alexander Steen, Rickard Wallin, Tom Wandell, Henrik ZetterbergDefensemen (13):
Alexander Edler, Tobias Enstrom, Jonathan Ericsson
, Jonas Frogren, Nicklas Grossman, Carl Gunnarsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Niklas Kronwall
, Nicklas Lidstrom
, Douglas Murray, Johnny Oduya, Mattias Ohlund, Anton Stralman