TORONTO -- Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson was 15 years old when he watched Sweden win the gold medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Eight years later, he still remembers the goal that set off celebrations throughout his homeland.
"I remember the drop pass from [Mats] Sundin to [Peter] Forsberg to one-timer [Nicklas] Lidstrom," Karlsson recalled when asked about the deciding goal in the championship game against Finland. "[Cross]bar-in, pretty much. The save in the end by [goaltender Henrik] Lundqvist. That's probably what I remember the most."
Karlsson, now 23, will be making his first Olympic appearance for Sweden. He knows the competition will be stiff in Sochi when round-robin play starts on Feb. 12.
"I think there are a lot of teams that have pretty good teams, and we're definitely one of them," Karlsson said. "We have a lot of guys that have been around for a while and even won in the past. We have some younger guys that have been playing really good lately and we've got solid goaltending, and we should expect nothing else than to go to the gold-medal game."
Sweden joins gold-medal favorites Canada, Russia and the United States as those with the most pressure to win, but Karlsson doesn't see it that way.
"Canada obviously is always under very high pressure," said Karlsson, the 2012 Norris Trophy winner. "If they don't win [gold, then they didn't] do good; that's pretty much how it's always been and how it always will be. Russia is playing at home, and they've got a really good team as well. They expect nothing else from those guys either.
"Maybe the pressure on us isn't that big from media and people around us."
Karlsson isn't a stranger to international competition. He played for Sweden in the 2010 and 2012 World Championships and the 2009 World Junior Championships. But playing in the Olympics is something he's always thought about and can't wait to do.
"I think it's always something I think everybody grows up watching, even if you're a sports fan or not," Karlsson said. "I think that's something that's been on TV for such a long time and something that everybody's excited about, so obviously something I've been looking forward to for a long time."
Karlsson said Sweden's win in Turin, 12 years after the gold-medal victory at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, helped make hockey even more popular in his home country.
"I think it just put us on the map a little more," Karlsson said. "It was right about then we had a lot of players in the League that did really well. TV started coming and we started getting more NHL games back home, and getting that win was huge for us."
There are differences between the rules in Olympic hockey and the NHL; the most notable one is the size of the ice. The Olympic-sized rink is 200 feet by 100 feet; an NHL ice surface is 200-by-85. That extra 15 feet can make a world of difference.
"Most of the guys have been here for so long it's different for us too coming back home to play," Karlsson said. "I think every team is going to do about the same. It's all about the skating because it's a bigger ice surface, and the way the hockey is played right now, it's fast-paced and everybody is a pretty good skater, so I don't think there will be an advantage."
There's also the matter of traveling to Russia; Sochi is nine hours ahead of Eastern time.
"The travel is going to be tough," Karlsson said. "I think everybody has to figure out what they need to do to be ready once they land. Don't stop, just keep going and don't allow yourself to be tired. It's such a short period of time, I don't think it's really going to affect you that much."
Despite the rule differences and travel, Karlsson said the pressure to win the gold medal isn't unlike the pressure to win the Stanley Cup.
"I think everybody is used to playing under high pressure, and it's something we deal with every day, so I don't think in a short period of time it really affects you too much," he said.
Author: Joe Yerdon | NHL.com Correspondent