DETROIT – Four years ago, forward Daniel Alfredsson was preparing to make his final Olympic appearance as he accompanied Sweden to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.
“I thought Vancouver was going to be my last one, and everything you know, you bring family and a lot of friends came as well to watch,” Alfredsson said. “That’s what’s great too that family and friends get to experience, and being around the Olympics. It can be a logistic nightmare at times but everybody’s in a good mood and sharing stories and it doesn’t matter what country you’re from so it’s a great feeling.”
But little did the forward know that it would not be his last, as Alfredsson signed a one-year contract with Detroit last July, extending his prolific NHL career for one more season – an additional year that just happened to include the 2014 Winter Olympics.
When Team Sweden announced its roster last month, it came as no surprise that Alfredsson’s name appeared on the country’s short list of 25 players, along with five of his Detroit teammates. It will mark the forward’s fifth Olympics in 16 years, dating back to 1998 when the NHL first allowed its players to participate in the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
“To do it this many times I don’t know if it will ever happen in Swedish history,” goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. “That means you have to be a top, top elite player for more than 20 years but he is and that’s pretty tough to do. I think it’s really cool and I think for Alfie to finish off with the international team this way, hopefully with a gold, that would be awesome.”
Three of the six Swedes going to Sochi from Detroit’s dressing room were part of the gold medal team in Turin eight years ago, including Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Alfredsson. At 41 years of age, Alfredsson is the eldest player on an impressive roster that also includes Vancouver’s Sedin twins, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom and Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Gustavsson hopes they can make Alfredsson’s last Olympic appearance one for the record books.
“I don’t think it’s thinking about the fact that he’s over 40 now because the way he’s playing it sure doesn’t look like he’s over 40,” Gustavsson said. “I would be surprised if it’s not his last one; whenever you do something for the last time it’s always special – first and last – so hopefully we can all have a very good tournament and make it good for him.”
Although a gold medal will certainly make the trip to Sochi that much sweeter, Alfredsson enjoys the Olympics for more than one reason, including the tournament’s format, the variety of athletes and sports present at the Games, and representing his country at the largest international competition.
“For one, you know it’s the best players in the world in a short tournament,” Alfredsson said. “It’s probably the highest level of hockey that you can get, and then playing for your country is always special and an honoring feeling. Beside from our own sport it’s just the whole atmosphere around the village that I find it being one of the best parts about it, walking around, seeing all the different athletes and meeting other people in the dining around or sharing different stories, it’s just incredibly cool, I guess.”
And he hopes to catch a few of his favorite winter events during any free time the hockey players may have.
“Women’s curling, Sweden had a good team the last few Olympics,” Alfredsson said of his favorite sports to watch in the past. “Also biathlon was really cool, we went to watch … Skiing I haven’t been up to watch any alpine or it’s been too far away. Speed-skating, other than that, looking at the schedule now I don’t know how much time we’ll have to get away to watch other stuff.”
As Alfredsson prepares for his fifth Olympic competition, the forward is clearly a seasoned veteran when it comes to the international hockey tournament. But for five of his Wings teammates, including defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, goalie Jimmy Howard and forwards Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist, the trip to Sochi will mark their first Winter Games.
Although Alfredsson made another trip to the Olympics following Sweden’s fifth-place finish in Vancouver, Sochi will more than likely mark the end of his impressive career for Tre Kronor, and he has plenty of advice for the first-time youngsters who are just beginning their careers as he nears the end of his.
“Enjoy it, take it all in, and make sure you try to get around and meet other people,” Alfredsson said. “I think especially for us we’re high-paid athletes compared to other people who grind for 2-3 years to prepare for this – some people even have an extra job – and they put everything they have in, and hearing those kinds of stories are neat.”
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