When Sweden takes to the ice at the Winter Games in Sochi, the team will be led by a different man. Who that player is hasn’t been determined yet, but the last captain of the squad was Detroit Red Wings future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom and he’s now retired.
One possibility to take over the ‘C’ is Lidstrom’s former teammate on the Winged Wheel, center Henrik Zetterberg. He’s already pulled one team through the transition of life without Lidstrom and Zetterberg is encouraged by the raft of new talent available to the Tre Kronor.
“On our ‘D’ side it looks really good,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids coming in. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is already a star in this league, we’ve got ‘Kronner’ (Wings mate Niklas Kronwall), Erik Karlsson, Jonas Brodin in Minnesota is doing a great job.…So a lot of guys can take that role and we’re going to see who does it in Sochi.”
While Zetterberg’s excellence on both sides of the puck will be a key part of Sweden’s attack up front, his experience will also help a national team in transition. Mainstays such as Peter Forsberg and Mattias Ohlund won’t be around, while Daniel Alfredsson will play in his last Games and be more of a secondary player. On the plus side, young stars Nicklas Backstrom and Loui Eriksson both saw duty in Vancouver.
“Everyone who has been a part of it before knows what to expect,” Zetterberg said. “I’ve been through the highs and lows of the Olympics, so nothing will be new. We will have a good team and we just have to do our best over the two weeks. If I get the captaincy, it will be a little different, but I’m not going to change the way I play.”
The high, naturally, was a gold medal win in 2006, when the Swedes beat archrival Finland 3-2 in the final. Zetterberg had six points in eight games, learning from national greats such as Alfredsson, Forsberg and Mats Sundin. But even that tournament came with controversy, as the Swedes were accused of tanking a round-robin game against Slovakia to get a more favorable draw in the medal round. The loss set up a match with Switzerland instead of Canada or the Czechs.
But at least that ended in a gold medal. Fast forward to Vancouver in 2010 and the Swedes found themselves off the podium altogether. And it was Slovakia that buried them, with Jaroslav Halak getting the 4-3 win in the quarterfinal.
With all the aforementioned talent assembled, the Swedes will be one of the favorites in Sochi and we haven’t even mentioned the Sedins yet, or Henrik Lundqvist in net. Nevertheless, they will need someone to guide the ship and Zetterberg’s friends know he is capable of the job.
“It’s no different than other years, he shows that he’s a top player on the ice,” said Red Wings teammate and fellow Swede Mikael Samuelsson. “A lot of guys have high expectations for him and he’s one of those guys where you always know what you’re going to get out of him.”
As for life without Lidstrom, though he can’t be replaced individually, the Red Wings have shown that you can survive without him. Detroit nearly toppled the eventual Stanley Cup winners from Chicago in the second round of the playoffs last season and were near the top of their new division in the Atlantic as October wound down. Their leading scorer? Zetterberg, of course – the man wearing the ‘C.’