Predators just one NHL team winning thanks to their Swedes
Filip Forsberg is having quite the spring for the Nashville Predators, setting franchise records with his eight goals and 15 points. He’s tied the team mark with at least a point in seven straight games.
Pontus Aberg scored the game-winning goal to put Nashville up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals, while defenceman Mattias Ekholm, has been smothering top lines all post-season. Viktor Arvidsson has 10 points, and his plus-13 rating ties him with Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell for second-best this post-season — behind Forsberg (plus-17).
All five of these players are Swedish. It has been a sweet post-season for players from a nation whose players once were derided for being soft and not able to handle the rigours of the NHL. In all, general manager David Poile has six Swedes on Nashville’s playoff roster as the Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 19-year history.
“I must admit we haven’t gone out of the way necessarily to get them to this point, but I’m thinking maybe we should,” Poile said. “They’ve certainly been key parts of our team.”
The Predators have lots of company in mining Sweden for talent. Defenceman Erik Karlsson was one of four Swedes playing for Ottawa in the Eastern Conference finals, while former Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist was one of three for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A check of NHL rosters shows 79 skaters and 10 goalies from Sweden played during the regular season, with 40 appearing in at least one playoff game.
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said Sweden has become a hockey power for a small country. Teammates with Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom in 1976 in Toronto, Carlyle saw the abuse directed at both.
“That was a little bit more barbaric or archaic times of hockey,” Carlyle said. “But that’s how much the game has grown, and it has become a world-class game. And these players are world-class players and now you’re looking at their contribution and the numbers that are in the NHL, it’s all a tribute back to those two players.”
Because of the time zone difference, Rakell said, it was pretty tough to watch NHL games when he was growing up. The best chance to watch hockey stars came during national team tournaments in Europe. Rakell, now 24, started watching more of the NHL when he got to junior hockey, though he also had a favourite.
“I was growing up in the same hometown as Mats Sundin, and he was pretty big in that small town I grew up in,” Rakell said of the 18-year NHL centre. “So he was one of the guys I was looking up to and watching highlight videos.”
Pittsburgh forward Carl Hagelin said Thursday that it’s a very good time to be a Swedish hockey player, noting Sweden beat Canada 2-1 in a shootout Sunday night for the world hockey championship. Each NHL team seems have two or three Swedes on the roster.
Yes, they do keep track of their countrymen during the regular season. In the playoffs, all friendships are put aside.
“In the playoffs, you just play to win games,” Hagelin said.
Hagelin estimated a third of Sweden watched the world championship. Thanks to the Internet and social media, it’s much easier to watch the NHL these days.
“There’s a lot of people watching us back home,” Aberg said.
Penguins forward Oskar Sundqvist agreed: “I know a lot of my friends stay up basically the whole night and watch games. I think it’s growing every day in Sweden, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger.”
In this April 13 file photo, Nashville Predators right wing Viktor Arvidsson (centre) celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks with defenseman Mattias Ekholm (left) and centre Filip Forsberg during Game 1 of a firstround NHL playoff series in Chicago.