The Swedish men’s national ice hockey team is coming off a gold medal win in the 2013 World Championships, but their recent international record isn’t particularly strong. The last time they won gold before last year was 2006; the same year they won Olympic gold in Turin. They also won gold in 1994, but in every other Olympics besides those two from 1992, they’ve come in fifth place. So since 1992, Sweden’s Olympic team has finished fifth, gold, fifth, fifth, gold and fifth. If that pattern continues, the Swedes will win gold in Sochi in 2014, and come in fifth in 2018. But will that turn out to be the case?
They certainly have the talent to pull it off in 2014. Their Olympic orientation camp roster includes two of the best offensive players in the world (Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin), probably the best young defenseman in the world (Erik Karlsson) and the best goaltender in the world (Henrik Lundqvist). If the Olympics was a three-on-three tournament (make it happen, IIHF) Sweden would probably run away with the gold. The problem is, the Swedish management team will need to pick 21 other players to round out the roster. That’s where I come in.
The Swedes started the 2010 Olympics off in dominating fashion, shutting out the Germans 2-0, beating Belarus 4-2 and blanking Finland 3-0. Things were going just swimmingly for the slick Swedes, until they ran into the surprising Slovaks in the quarterfinals. Despite outshooting Slovakia 29-14, Sweden couldn’t come up with a late equalizer and fell 4-3. Just like that, their tournament was over.
The Swedish team will see quite a few changes from 2010. Gone are longtime veterans Nicklas Lidstrom, Mattias Ohlund and Peter Forsberg. The Swedes will need the Sedins, Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, Loui Eriksson and others to step up and fill the leadership void. 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson wasn’t included in the orientation camp invitees, but I would still be very surprised if he wasn’t in Sochi. It’s abundantly clear he can still play at a high level.
With all that in mind, this is how I see the final 25-man roster shaking out:
- I’m getting kind of tired of writing “yeah, that’s a talented group of forwards” for every team but yeah, that’s a talented group of forwards. I don’t think any team we’ve looked at so far has this much depth from forwards #1 through #14. I threw Stalberg in there even though he didn’t receive an invite because he’s awesome. I thought a lot about Johansson vs. Berglund on the fourth line, but Johansson has done more at a younger age so he gets the nod.
- I added three more players on the blueline who weren’t invited to camp: Enstrom, Gunnarsson and Stralman. It was tough to leave Jonas Brodin off, but after just one season in the NHL (albeit a very strong season) he hasn’t done enough to supplant any of the veterans. With Enstrom, Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson, Edler and Stralman, that defense corps has no shortage of quality puck-movers.
- This was probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make in choosing a backup goaltender so far in this series. Fasth came out of nowhere last year to put up a .921 save percentage in 25 games for the Anaheim Ducks. In the end, I felt his small sample of NHL games wasn’t enough evidence he deserves the spot over Enroth, who’s played 53 NHL games and has posted a very strong .918 over the past two seasons. Ottawa Senators’ backup Robin Lehner has put up eye-popping numbers in his limited NHL action, so watch out for the 22-year-old to possibly win a spot on this team early in the season. With Lundqvist backstopping this team, I think Sweden clearly has the best lineup we’ve looked at so far. We’ll see how USA and Canada compare next.