Minnesota Wild forwards Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu and defenseman Filip Kuba, will be joining Brian Rolston in Turin, Italy for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Koivu will be representing Team Finland, Gaborik will play for Team Slovakia, and Kuba will skate for the Czech Republic. All three will be making their first-ever Olympic appearances.
Rolston, who will be a three-time Olympian, was named to the Team USA roster during a live press conference at the Xcel Energy Center on Monday night, prior to the Wild’s 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars.
Though all three are making their Olympic debuts, none of them are strangers to international competition. Gaborik and Koivu both competed for their respective countries at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Gaborik has also appeared in the World Championships, the World Junior Championships and the World Under-18 Championships since making his international debut in 1998-99, when he collected three goals and seven assists as a 16-year-old on the nation’s under-18 team.
"It’s very exciting," said Gaborik, who was disappointed four years ago when Slovakia failed to qualify for the medal round in Salt Lake City. "It didn’t work out then, but I’m looking forward to it. It will be good hockey."
Slovakia is a popular dark horse candidate to upset the usual powers like Canada, the United States, Sweden and the Czech Republic. With scoring punch provided by Marian Hossa, Pavol Demitra, Miroslav Satan and Gaborik, that could be a fair assessment.
"We’ll have a pretty good team," said Gaborik. "As long as we play as a team, you never know, everybody can win a game, and everybody can lose a game. We just have to try hard and compete hard, but we have a great group of guys and it will be fun."
Gaborik was notified by his good friend, Kuba, who will be his opponent in Torino. He spoke with his ecstatic parents in Slovakia, shortly after learning the news.
Koivu has competed for Finland on three occasions, including a term as captain of the Finnish under-18 team at the 2001 Under-18 World Championships. Koivu led that team in scoring with five points (2-3=5) in six games and was also a member of Finland’s World Junior Championships team that earned a silver medal that year.
Koivu will be playing with his brother, Saku, but he had yet to talk to his brother or his parents about the thrilling news.
"It’s going to be huge," said Koivu. "It’s always great to play for your country. I knew I had a chance to make the team, but I wasn’t sure. I just knew I had a chance."
Koivu also earned a silver medal at the World Cup with Finland, a team that showed an unrelenting defense that led to a meeting with Canada in the final.
"Our strength is that a big part of the team was at the World Cup," he said. "It will be easier to get together since we only have two days to get ready when we get over there."
Kuba found out he made the team on Thursday morning, when his wife called him with the news. He won a gold medal with the Czech Republic at the 2001 World Championships, where he recorded a goal and an assist. He leads Wild defensemen with 12 points (3-9=12) in 28 games this season.
"It’s quite an honor to be able to represent my country," said Kuba just before taking the ice for a pregame skate. "It has always been a dream of mine. I’m very excited."
The Wild didn’t have any representatives at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. This year, the club will have four.
"It will be a lot of fun that the four of us will be able to go over there," said Kuba. "I’m sure it will be interesting to face them on a different team."
The Wild’s last game before the Olympics will be at Vancouver on Sunday, February 12. From there, the four Wild Olympians will travel to the other side of the world for two weeks of Olympic play.