Thursday, February 8, 2007

Gotta Love Them Swedes

I’m not sure if Sweden was with us back when we started this war in Iraq, but it has recently come to be my favorite country (besides the US and A, of course) because of their outsized contributions to the Detroit Red Wings hockey club. Sweden has become the country to beat in international hockey competitions (winning the Olympic Gold Medal and the World Championships in 2006) and some key players on the Red Wings have played important roles in those victories.

The prototype Swede for the Red Wings is Nicklas Lidstrom, who has been their steadiest performer for more than a decade. He was the top defenseman on all three of their Stanley Cup Champion teams and is the captain (now that “The Captain” has retired) and the only max contract on the Wings. In the past, he had threatened to return to Sweden so his children could grow up in a colder but perhaps more civilized country but the lure of the winged wheel and the dollars that comes with it appears to have been too great to resist.

The Swedes are the core group of players on the Red Wings, and we drafted them ourselves, with some of them being late round steals. Henrik “Hank” Zetterberg is a prime example of a player poised to be a superstar who the Wings drafted in the 7th round, after 209 other players had been taken.

The Wings have a total of seven Swedish players although two (Andreas Lilja and Mikael Samuelsson) were acquired via trade and/or free agency so they have the taint of other teams and are not pure Red Wings.

The five Swedish players the Red Wings have drafted below, who all average around 20 minutes per game, have helped to keep the Red Wings recent winning tradition alive.

Nicklas Lidstrom (Drafted 1989, 3rd Round 53rd overall): Not sure what happened to their first and second round picks this year, but they picked up Nicklas Lidstrom in the 3rd round (74th overall) and Sergei Federov in the 4th round (95th overall). Add in Vladimir Konstantinov and you have one of the best drafts in Red Wings history. Unfortunately, we lost Konstantinov in that tragic limo crash after the 97 Stanley Cup victory and Federov left the team as a free agent to re-start his career out in Southern California before his unfortunate trade to Columbus last season.

Thomas Holmstrom (Drafted 1994, 10th round 257th overall): Thomas was lucky enough to be a rookie for the first of three Red Wings Stanley Cup champion teams. So he is our good luck charm because his timing was awesome. This guy is a nuisance in front of the net and always scores some big goals.

Henrik Zetterberg (Drafted 1999, 7th round 210th overall): The story about how we got this budding superstar is that they were at a tournament scouting Kronwall and they saw something in Zetterberg. This was before he lifted his former Swedish team, the Timra Red Eagles, into the higher leagues with his outstanding play. It’s awesome that he is signed through 2009 because he is about to become one of the elite stars in the league (according to Wayne Gretzky!)

Niklas Kronwall (Drafted 2000, 1st round, 29th overall): I guess they were actually scouting Niklas when they ran across Hank, so he gets extra credit for that. This guy is going to be an anchor on the blue line for a long time to come (knock on wood) as the Wings have been incredibly unlucky in losing solid defensive players in Konstantinov and Jiri Fisher in the past.

Johan Frenzen (Drafted 2004, 3rd round, 97th overall): I like this Johan player, sounds like a character from Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. Solid third line center, the kind of kid that maybe would have come from the Ontario Hockey Leagues a generation ago.

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