|Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson will wear the 'C' for Sweden at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images).
It's all about the Tre Kronor now.
Two of the Ottawa Senators' biggest stars are headed home in the next few days to help Sweden in its bid to win its first world hockey championship gold medal since 2006. For captain Daniel Alfredsson and defenceman Erik Karlsson, it's also a chance to fill a personal void on this stage.
Though he tasted Olympic gold at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, the 39-year-old Alfredsson is still missing the ultimate prize at a tournament that is among the biggest on the calendar each year for players in Europe. The 2012 IIHF worlds, which begin Friday in Helsinki and Stockholm, represent Alfredsson's seventh appearance at this event. The previous six trips have produced two silver and a pair of bronze medals, but no gold.
There is also the matter of avenging a 6-1 loss to arch-rival Finland in the gold-medal game of the 2011 worlds, held in Bratislava, Slovakia. Though Sweden will be based in Stockholm for its preliminary round action, the semifinals and medal games will be played May 19 and 20, respectively, at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki.
Back in 1995, Finland shocked Sweden at the Globen Arena in Stockholm to strike gold for the first time at the worlds — a victory which unleashed a week's worth of celebration across the Scandinavian nation. Seventeen years later, the Tre Konor have an opportunity for some payback on Finnish soil and Alfredsson, who made his worlds debut with that 1995 Swedish outfit, couldn't agree more.
"This would be the perfect scenario after all those years, to beat Finland on their home ice," Alfredsson, who'll captain Sweden's squad at the 2012 worlds, told IIHF.com earlier this week. "I have never won the world championship."
Neither, too, have Karlsson or Senators forward prospect Jakob Silfverberg, who will suit up for his second straight world championship for the Tre Kronor. The 21-year-old Karlsson was part of Sweden's bronze-medal winning team at the 2010 worlds held in Germany, and also took home a silver from the 2009 world juniors that were played at Scotiabank Place.
After a season in which he led all National Hockey League defencemen with 78 points and earned a Norris Trophy nomination, Karlsson is enthused about the chance to play for gold for his homeland again.
"It's a great honour and something that I want to do," he said.
The Swedes figure to be one of the favourites for gold this year. In addition to Alfredsson and Karlsson, the Tre Kronor will also benefit from the early elimination of the Detroit Red Wings from the Stanley Cup playoffs. That made forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, along with blueliners Stefan Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, available for their squad. Dallas Stars sniper Loui Eriksson will also suit up for Sweden in the tournament.
Alfredsson is the right choice to wear the 'C' for Sweden, according to Zetterberg.
"That’s the correct decision," Zetterberg told the Expressen newspaper in Sweden. "He has been the captain more or less all of his hockey career.”
Three other Senators have headed overseas to represent their respective countries at the event. Forward Milan Michalek will play in his third world championship for the Czech Republic — he came with a bronze a year ago — while centre Stephane Da Costa makes his fourth straight appearance for France and winger Kaspars Daugavins will represent Latvia for a fourth time.
Teams are grouped into two pools of eight for the preliminary round, which opens Friday at both events. Group S (Stockholm) includes Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Norway, while Group H (Helsinki) is comprised of the host Finns, Canada, the United States, Slovakia, France, Belarus, Switzerland and Kazakhstan.
The top four in each pool qualify for the quarter-finals May 17, with two games each at this stage slated to be played in Stockholm and Helsinki.
All Team Canada games, along with the quarter-finals, semifinals and final, will air on TSN. Fans can watch other preliminary round games on the IIHF's YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/icehockey) free of charge.