Swe­den’s el­ders at World Cup know time is short

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Stephen Wynoa

When Hen­rik Lundqvist car­ried a Swedish flag around the ice at the 2006 Turin Olympics with a gold medal dan­gling from his neck, he was a fresh-faced kid days shy of his 24th birth­day.

A sev­enth-round pick in 2000, Lundqvist was in his first sea­son in the NHL with the New York Rangers and still rel­a­tively un­known out­side Swe­den. In his first ma­jor in­ter­na­tional event, he led Swe­den to vic­tory in the fi­nal Olympics for Hall of Famer Mats Sundin.

Ten years later, Lundqvist and twin broth­ers Daniel and Hen­rik Sedin are the only play­ers from that team play­ing for Swe­den at the World Cup of Hockey. Lundqvist is 34 and the Sedins are 35. They’re three vic­to­ries away from win­ning an­other best-on-best tour­na­ment in what might be their last chance.

“We’re get­ting to the age right now where you don’t know how many more tour­na­ments you can play,” said Daniel Sedin, a team­mate with his brother on the Van­cou­ver Canucks since 2000. “It’s ex­cit­ing that way. It might be our last one.”

Swe­den faces Team Europe in the sec­ond semi­fi­nal Sun­day af­ter­noon in Toronto, with the win­ner fac­ing Canada in the three-game fi­nal.

The Swedes will be with­out for­ward Mikael Back­lund be­cause of a con­cus­sion. Fin­land’s Sami Lepisto hit Back­lund high and was as­sessed a mi­nor penalty for rough­ing in the pre­lim­i­nary round.

The Calgary Flames de­cided they wanted Back­lund to leave the World Cup of Hockey to be eval­u­ated by their doc­tors.

“Ob­vi­ously, they’re mak­ing that de­ci­sion be­cause it’s best for the player him­self, for Mikael to get back on track and re­hab with their sup­port,” Swe­den coach Rikard Gron­borg said. “We sup­port the de­ci­sion.”

Lundqvist and the Sedins are proud mem­bers of Swe­den’s golden gen­er­a­tion, which be­gan with Sundin and Peter Fors­berg and con­tin­ued with Nick­las Lid­strom, Daniel Al­freds­son and Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg. They’re now the old guys who young stars Erik Karls­son, Filip Fors­berg and Victor Hed­man want to win for, es­pe­cially be­cause the Stan­ley Cup has evaded Tre Kronor’s three old­est play­ers.

Winger Carl Hagelin, a team­mate of Lundqvist’s in New York from 2011-2015, said older play­ers men­tioned at meet­ings over the sum­mer that their time was run­ning out.

“The win­dow is pretty small,” Hagelin said. “You have to make sure you em­brace this op­por­tu­nity and bring it all.”

Swe­den lost to Canada in the fi­nal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, wind­ing up with the sil­ver medal de­spite in­juries to Hen­rik Sedin, Zet­ter­berg and Jo­han Franzen.

“I think that’s pretty re­mark­able,” Daniel Sedin said. “I think that’s Swedish hockey for you.”

Lundqvist has won the Vez­ina Tro­phy as the NHL’s top goal­tender and got to the Cup fi­nal with the Rangers in 2014, but he’s at his best in Swe­den’s iconic blue and yel­low. “The King” made 25 saves to beat Fin­land in the 2006 fi­nal, had a .927 save per­cent­age in the 2010 Van­cou­ver Olympics, a .943 in Sochi and a .953 so far at the World Cup.

“When we won the Olympics, he was an up-and-com­ing goal­tender just try­ing to es­tab­lish him­self in the NHL,” Lid­strom said. “Look­ing at him to­day he’s one of the best in the world. He’s won a Vez­ina, he’s won the Olympics with us. He’s re­ally es­tab­lished him­self as a world-class goal­tender.”

Lundqvist’s beard is far grayer than it was 10 years ago when he went from a fas­ci­na­tion to one of the most cel­e­brated hockey play­ers in the world. His charisma, Hol­ly­wood good looks and GQ fash­ion sense have made him as much of a celebrity as an elite goalie.

He’s 10 years older in many ways.

“My life is very dif­fer­ent,” said Lundqvist, who has been mar­ried since 2011 and has two young daugh­ters. “That was my first year in the NHL with so many new things hap­pen­ing for me. I ad­justed to that life a lit­tle bit more, but the hunger for the game and to com­pete is, I think, the same.

“I’ve re­ally en­joyed so many things about play­ing in New York and play­ing for the na­tional team, too. You learn a lot from do­ing that, by be­ing sur­rounded by great play­ers.”

Lundqvist is the great­est of Swe­den’s great play­ers even now. The Sedins hold sig­nif­i­cant roles, big­ger than in 2006 when they were com­ple­men­tary pieces.

“We’ve been in the league a long time now,” said Hen­rik Sedin, Swe­den’s cap­tain. “Back then we were all the youngest guys on the team. You had guys on the team that you looked up to when you started play­ing in Swe­den. It’s dif­fer­ent to be the old­est guys, for sure.”

Per­haps old, but not ready to write off mak­ing an im­pact. Lundqvist oc­ca­sion­ally has mo­ments when he re­flects on the best decade in Swedish hockey his­tory. But he didn’t want to do that with his mind fo­cused on win­ning one more time.

“If you look back at the past 10 years, we had some re­ally good re­sults and some that we wish could be done bet­ter,” Lundqvist said. “Over­all it’s been a good stretch, I think, for Swe­den. Hope­fully, we can top it here.”

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