Swedes shooting for rare repeat at Olympics

DETROIT (AP) — Swedish star Nicklas Lidstrom can vividly recall the sequence that set up his gold-medal winning goal at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

"It was a 4 on 4, and Saku Koivu broke his stick off the faceoff," Lidstrom said. "Peter Forsberg got the puck, carried it up the left side, over the blue line and dropped it to Mats Sundin.

"I was following up, and Sundin dropped it to me for a one-timer just inside the blue line — slightly to the left. It was a great feeling when it went in. But I didn't think it would be the winner, because we still had almost 20 minutes left."

It was enough.

The Swedes held on to beat Finland 3-2 and flew home to Stockholm the next morning.

"People were at the airport waiting for us, and then we went right to a big celebration at Medborgarplatsen, a square downtown that was packed with about 100,000 people," Lidstrom recalled with a grin. "It's great to win gold for your country, then to celebrate it with Swedish fans so quickly afterward was awesome."

Lidstrom, Forsberg, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Co. are hoping to create more memories at the Vancouver Games by repeating as Olympic champions.

"If you look back at history, it's pretty tough to defend it," Lundqvist said. "I don't know how many times it's happened."

Since the NHL allowed its players to participate in 1988, it hasn't happened technically.

The Unified Team of former Soviet Union republics, composed mainly of Russians, won gold in 1992 after the Soviet Union won the Nagano Games. Sweden, Czech Republic and Canada were the next three Olympic champions before the Swedes won it again in a tournament filled with parity and puck luck.

The Swedes are not a popular pick to skate to gold, and that's just the way they like it.

"I think people still look at Canada and Russia, especially Canada probably being the biggest favorite because it's in Vancouver," forward Daniel Alfredsson said.

Sweden seems to have an easy path early in the Olympics, competing in perhaps the weakest of the three groups with Finland, Belarus and Germany.

"I don't think there is much pressure on us," forward Fredrik Modin said. "I think most of the pressure is going to be on Team Canada. It's their home ice. They always seem to have big pressure on them.

"We're feeling good about ourselves. We knew what we did last time, and we're looking to do the same thing again."

Sweden general manager Mats Naslund assembled a 23-man roster that includes 13 players who were at the Turin Games and 19 who are in the NHL.

Naslund's preliminary roster didn't include veteran Mikael Samuelsson, who is on pace to surpass his career-high 45 points with the Canucks, or 22-year-old Niclas Bergfors, an NHL rookie of the year candidate playing for the New Jersey Devils.

Samuelsson is one of 22 players in the Triple Gold Club (Olympics, Stanley Cup and world championship), but the Swedes still have five others in the select group: Forsberg, Lidstrom, Modin, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.

Forsberg, a former NHL MVP, is trying to regain form after enduring ankle and foot injuries for years while playing for Swedish team Modo. He scored the clinching goal to lift Sweden to gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

"The one major difference from our last Olympic team is not having Sundin around anymore," Kronwall said. "But we have some young guys that were even better than they were in Turin with four more years of experience, so I think potentially we're going to be better."

Kronwall went on to rave about how well Zetterberg, Nicklas Backstrom and twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been playing this season. Henrik Sedin, who will be playing on home ice for at least some of the games in Vancouver, had an NHL-high 78 points entering play Thursday.

"It's a good mix with old guys like myself, Lidstrom, (Mattias) Ohlund and Forsberg, and good young guys," Alfredsson said. "Goaltending in a short tournament is very important, and I feel we're strong in that position as well."

Lundqvist was 5-1 with a 2.33 goals-against average in Turin.

"I don't know if it gives me an advantage," the New York Rangers standout said. "But what's good is that I've played in other tournaments, and I know what to expect. I remember in that tournament, I had a couple of good breaks. We didn't play great the whole tournament, but we played good when we had to and there were parts of it where we really stepped up."

Sweden hockey coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson will be a step above his players at the Olympics one last time.

The Swedish Ice Hockey Association announced last month that Gustafsson would quit after the Vancouver Games and upcoming world championships in Germany, replacing him June 1 with Par Marts.

Gustafsson, who said he looks forward to returning to coach a club team, led the Swedes to the gold in 2006 and world championships.

Some in Sweden have criticized Gustafsson's lack of success lately, but no one from Stockholm to Sollentuna will forget the gold he helped the country win in Italy.

Nashville Predators forward Patric Hornqvist, a member of the current team, was still living with his parents in Sollentuna as a 19-year-old fan when Lidstrom's slap shot got past the Finns.

"I missed the first period because I had practice, then I watched the game with just my mom and dad," Hornqvist recalled. "I didn't leave the couch — until Nick scored. The guys on the TV were going nuts, and my family was, too."


AP freelance writer Bob Matuszak in Buffalo contributed to this report.