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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 WSH 51 38 9 4 166 114 80
2 FLA 52 31 15 6 143 115 68
3 NYR 52 29 18 5 148 134 63
4 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 NYI 51 27 18 6 143 127 60
7 DET 52 26 18 8 130 131 60
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10 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
11 MTL 54 26 24 4 143 143 56
12 PHI 51 23 19 9 121 133 55
13 OTT 53 24 23 6 148 165 54
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
D. Larkin 51 18 19 25 37
H. Zetterberg 52 9 25 2 34
T. Tatar 51 15 17 -2 32
G. Nyquist 52 14 15 -2 29
J. Abdelkader 52 14 12 -4 26
P. Datsyuk 37 6 20 11 26
M. Green 46 4 17 -7 21
N. Kronwall 45 3 14 -10 17
B. Richards 38 5 10 6 15
D. DeKeyser 48 6 8 12 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 19 10 4 .932 2.03
J. Howard 7 8 4 .904 2.89