Sweet post-season

Preda­tors just one NHL team win­ning thanks to their Swedes

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY TERESA M. WALKER

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.”

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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.

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