Golden memories are just memories for Samuelsson

Originally published on IHWC.NET in 2007

By Lucas Aykroyd

Imagine the following scene. It’s just before a game-day skate in the Detroit Red Wings dressing room during the 2006-07 season.

Nicklas Lidstrom: “Good morning, fellow Swedish Wings! Are you ready to compete hard for victory tonight?”

Mikael Samuelsson: “Captain Lidstrom, I was reminiscing with Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall here about our history-making double gold performance in Turin and Riga last year. That’s really got us fired up!”

Nicklas Lidstrom: “Ah, yes, you three certainly did very well at both those IIHF tournaments. As a matter of fact, I was just mentally reliving my Olympic-winning goal against Finland. In a spirit of Tre Kronor brotherhood, let’s go to the video room and watch it again before we hit the ice.”

Skeptical readers will already have guessed that no, this sort of conversation doesn’t really take place in Swedish-heavy NHL dressing rooms, whether it’s Detroit, Vancouver, or elsewhere.

Samuelsson scored 14 goals and 20 assists with Detroit this year in an injury-riddled 53-game campaign. And the 30-year-old journeyman forward, currently with his fifth NHL club, told IHWC.NET that what his national team accomplished in 2006 hasn’t even fully sunk in yet: “When you’re playing this game, the new season comes up so fast that you don’t really end up thinking about it. You have a couple of months to think about it now and then over the summer, but then, you go back out there and perform. Now it’s all about Detroit for me, trying to do the best job I can. Those memories aren’t gone by any means, but they’re tucked away at the back of your head. I’ll say that when we won at the Olympics, it was like walking on heaven. It was one of the greatest moments I’ve ever been part of. Hockey-wise, for sure it was the greatest moment.”

And if he had to cite a personal highlight from the Olympics?

“In the final game, I got an assist on our first goal by Zetterberg, which tied it up. It’s always great to be part of a win like that.”

Talk in previous years had always been about how Sweden produced many of the world’s absolute elite players, from Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner Peter Forsberg to goal-scoring machine Markus Naslund. But Samuelsson, who chipped in a career-best 45 points for Detroit last year, is aware that Sweden couldn’t have ruled in 2006 with glamorous talent alone.

“In the Olympics, everybody expects guys like Lidstrom and Mats Sundin to play well,” said Samuelsson. “And everybody did play well, especially our defensemen. But two forwards that stood out for me were Samuel Pahlsson and P-J Axelsson. They did a huge job on the penalty kill for us.”

Speaking of a huge job, Head Coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson also did one by winning two IIHF gold medals in a single year, a feat that eluded international coaching legends like Russia’s Viktor Tikhonov and the Czech Republic’s Ivan Hlinka. Gustafsson, a former on-ice star in Sweden and Austria as well as with the Washington Capitals, has a distinctive approach in terms of picking players for Tre Kronor and interacting with the men under his charge.

“I like him a lot,” said Samuelsson. “This might seem strange, but he doesn’t always try to just pick ‘the best players.’ He tries to put together a team that will work well together, with four good lines. He picks role players a little more. The Swedish national team coaches, I believe, haven’t really done that before. Over in North America, it’s a big part of the game. In the past in Sweden, it was cut and dried: ‘All the best players are playing.’ But that wasn’t really the case with the last World Championship. For instance, a guy like Michael Nylander wasn’t selected. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been there, but Bengt-Ake and his coaching staff decided he wouldn’t be there. I don’t know why, because he’s a really good player. But Bengt-Ake believes in what he does. You can hear it when he talks. That’s all you can do: believe in your thing and do it the best you can.”

So overall, what was the main difference between the Olympic experience and the World Championship experience?

“We didn’t have any expectations at all at the World Championship,” said Samuelsson, one of eight Swedes who played in both Turin and Riga. “We came there and the media said we had a really weak team, although obviously some guys came over, including Detroit guys like myself. Otherwise, it was pretty similar. The Olympics was huge, having all the best players there.”

In order for the Swedes to repeat as World Champions this year, they’ll have to get the best possible goaltending performance. Johan Holmqvist earned a 2.00 GAA and .909 save percentage in seven starts en route to his nation’s first IIHF World Championship title since 1998, and the 29-year-old has parlayed that success into steady work with the Tampa Bay Lightning this year.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Samuelsson. “He’s been good for a long time. Actually, before I came over here, I played one year with him [1999-00 with Brynas], and he was really good. It was just a matter of time for him to put it together, and he did it at the World Championship. He’s done a great job this year too.”

And now, a year removed from Riga, it’s all about “this year” again. The pressure is on for a new edition of Tre Kronor to claim top spot in Moscow.

But in 2010, or 2014, or 2018, could we see another double gold-winning nation like the Swedes of ’06?

Samuelsson is nothing if not realistic: “Yeah, at some point in time. You’ll maybe see it. But it’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t know, but I bet someday you’ll see it again.” Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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