DETROIT – As expected, the Red Wings will have a strong presence at the Sochi Olympics next month with 10 players, a head coach and general manager scattered among five national teams.
But it’s the Swedish team that will have the biggest Detroit congregation led by captain Henrik Zetterberg, forward Daniel Alfredsson and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. All three were members of Tre Kroner’s gold-medal win at the Turin Games in 2006.
“This will be my fourth Olympics and the other three have been unreal experiences,” Zetterberg said last week. “You just go there and play for your country and it’s not just hockey. You’re part of a group with other athletes and you experience their successes and their failures and their preparations and it’s a great two weeks. I’m looking forward to this one just as much as I did the past ones. It’s been a few tough defeats and we won the gold in Turin, so I’ve been through it all and hopefully we can get another gold.”
Alfredsson, who will be playing in his fifth Olympic Games, has 11 goals and 12 assists with a plus-13 rating in 20 career Olympic contests. The 41-year-old Swede has 11 goals and 30 points in 37 games this season with the Red Wings.
Joining the Red Wings’ Big 3 are first-time Olympian Jonathan Ericsson, and forward Johan Franzen and goalie Jonas Gustavsson – both played in the 2010 Vancouver Games where Sweden finished in fifth place.
Representing their hockey-crazy country is very special to the Swedes, who take the Olympics as serious as they do the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I think it’s always something different when you go somewhere representing your country,” Kronwall said. “Here it’s of course very special to represent the Red Wings and be a part of this family but when you go out to the world and represent your country obviously a huge honor.”
All but one player on Sweden’s 25-man roster is a current NHL player, and that guy happens to have ties to the Red Wings’ organization. Jimmie Ericsson is the older brother of Wings’ defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The 33-year-old forward has spent his entire career in the Swedish Elite League with Skellefteå, where he has been the team captain for the last three seasons. This will also be his first Olympic Games, though he has helped Sweden win bronze, silver and gold in three of the last four World Championships. The Ericssons were teammates on the 2010 squad that took home a bronze medal.
The Wings’ Ericsson actually thinks his brother is the better hockey player.
“My older brother is more talented than me, but he doesn’t like working out or being that determined to reach that far,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “He’s a great hockey player, but he doesn’t have that mentality off the ice that maybe I have and that’s kept me going.”
The Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues have the most NHL players headed to this year’s Olympics, followed Montreal with eight and Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and the New York Rangers with seven each.
Besides the six Swedes, goalie Jimmy Howard will represent the United States, center Pavel Datsyuk Russia, and forwards Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will play for Slovakia.
Howard, who played for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, is making his first Olympic experience for what U.S. general manager Dave Poile said is Howard’s past work.
“From a personal standpoint being in the same division as the Wings for years I know what Jimmy can do,” said Poile, who is also the GM of the Nashville Predators. “I know he would say the same thing, I think this has not been his best year but his body of work has been fabulous. I mean, 35 wins in three consecutive seasons and the playoff record the Wings have with him in goal. The big games that he has won for the Wings, especially on the road and behind in series, or what have you, I mean, I know what Jimmy Howard can do but I think the rest of our committee knows what he can do and he got a spot on the Olympic team based on his body of work.”
Red Wings GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock were in Toronto on Tuesday for the unveiling of Team Canada’s 25-man roster, which they helped assemble. This will be the tandems' first defense of Canada's gold-medal win four years ago.
Four of the Wings’ Olympians – Ericsson (fractured ribs), Franzen (concussion), Datsyuk (lower-body) and Gustavsson (groin) – have been nursing injuries, but are on the mend and hope to rejoin Detroit’s lineup soon, Holland said.
The Olympic hockey schedule begins Feb. 12 when Sweden opens the 12-team tournament against the Czech Republic. Other openers involving the Red Wings are Feb. 13 when Russia plays Slovenia, the U.S. plays Slovakia, and Canada plays Norway.
The gold medal game is scheduled for Feb. 23.
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