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Kronwall evolves into Sweden's D leader

Wednesday, 02.12.2014 / 10:30 AM ET / News
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Kronwall evolves into Sweden\'s D leader
Niklas Kronwall battles Slovakia's Zigmund Palffy during the 2010 Vancouver Games. (Photo by Getty Images)

Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall was working out with the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League during the early part of the NHL's Olympic break eight years ago.

Lavish it wasn't, but Kronwall, then 25, only recently had returned from knee surgery and didn't think taking a vacation while more than 100 players went to play in the 2006 Turin Olympics.

He was right.

"I kept skating with them and out of the blue I get a phone call that says, 'Hey, they might need a body out there,'" Kronwall, now 33 and an alternate captain with the Red Wings, told NHL.com. "The next day I was on a flight [to Turin]. One day I was watching it on TV and the next day I was right in there. Everything just happened so quickly. (Mattias) Ohlund went down and all of a sudden I was playing in the gold-medal game."

Kronwall wasn't just playing in the gold-medal game against Finland; he scored the go-ahead goal in the second period. Sweden won gold with a 3-2 victory and Kronwall hasn't needed to make plans around the Olympic break since, as he's gone from last-minute replacement in 2006 to the expected leader on the back end for Tre Kronor at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Entering his third Olympics, Kronwall understands how much his role has changed even from 2010, when he was an 18-minute per game defenseman but still more of a role player on a team that featured Nicklas Lidstrom.

He's the sixth-oldest player on Sweden's 23-man roster behind Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Tallinder, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg. Kronwall is the second-oldest defenseman behind Tallinder, who is expected to be seventh or eighth on the depth chart.

Kronwall could play more than 20 minutes per game on a team that on paper has the requisite amount of skill, speed and patience to win gold on the big ice in Sochi.

"The older you get, I want to think the wiser you get somehow," Kronwall said. "I have to try to bring some calm to the table."

Kronwall is confident that he can because that's what he tries to do every day with the Red Wings.

He learned how to do it, to play with professionalism, poise, patience and a sense of calmness, from Lidstrom, who Kronwall is replacing as Sweden's leader on the back end.

"Just being around a guy like that helps you big time," Kronwall said. "To see his preparation on and off the ice, to see how he handles himself in all kinds of situations, on the ice in big games or off the ice with fans and media, it all helps you become a better person."

Kronwall thinks he has made the adjustment from role player to leader. His defense partner in Detroit and likely partner in the Olympics can confirm that he has.

Jonathan Ericsson looks up to Kronwall the way Kronwall used to look up to Lidstrom -- the apprentice who is trying to take on the traits of the mentor.

"All of a sudden now he's the oldest defensemen on the [Red Wings] and he's developed even better leadership qualities," Ericsson said. "He was always a leader but maybe a quiet leader. Now he's more vocal and he takes charge out there. He feels it's his responsibility to look after us as defensemen. He feels responsible for us. I have really seen a big difference. It's been a big change and he's really stepping up.

"For the Olympics now he's the same way. He'll be the oldest defensemen except Tallinder, but (Kronwall) will probably be playing more and he'll be the same player as he is with the Red Wings at the Olympics."

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
P. Datsyuk 66 16 33 7 49
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80