To Sweden, with Love: An Apprecation of Swedish Players in the NHL

Nelson SantosCorrespondent IAugust 14, 2008

No I'm not over six feet tall, blond, or have blue eyes. I wasn't born in Sweden—in fact, I've never been there. But yet I find myself attracted to the imports that grace the National Hockey League. This may shock you—I'm actually Canadian!

We're supposed to love our players and always remind other hockey-playing nations that we are the greatest. I like to think—no, wait, I know I do my part. That being said, over the last decade or more I can't help notice the Swedes are Europe's "Canucks."

The Swedes have won their share of International titles—including Gold at the last Olympics. But this article is not based on that country's success. It about the overall observations I've made with all the individuals in the NHL.

First and foremost, they are humble. Even the superstars. A trait similar to Canadian superstar hockey players—imagine that!

Players like Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson, and Nick Lidstrom are captains of their respective teams—an honour usually bestowed on the heart and soul of a team (or at least that's traditionally what we Canadians like to think).

Think how many top-notch players in the NHL have been Swedes over the last 15 years or so. There are the three mentioned above. Add Forsberg—the best-ever to come over from that country, in my humble opinion. Zetterberg, Naslund—and the list goes on.

Now stop and think about the last time a Swedish player held out on his NHL team. Any one of the players I mentioned could/can demand top dollar yet seldom have. That's a sign of loyalty and integrity—whadda ya know, just like Canadian players.

Although not really, in the case of Curtis Joseph fleeing to Las Vegas because of contract issues with Edmonton in 1995-96.

The skill level of their players matches up to all other hockey powers, yet many Swedes arrive in the NHL as solid two-way players. This is mainly due to the fact that many of them, no matter how high they are drafted remain, loyal to the club team they were developed by, and remain for at least a season in the Eliterserien (The Swedish Elite League).

Hey, hold the phone! That's not a trait all Canadians possess—but in all fairness many of our best players go straight from Junior hockey to the show.

They're adaptable. You can see the transformation in the playing style of a Swedish player in pretty much their first season. They seem to correct any area of weakness in their game quickly. Again, I believe this is a testament to their development and humble nature.

Granted, Tomas Holmstrom did not make his living in the crease in his days in Sweden. Niklas Kronwall is all of a sudden one of the best open-ice hitters in the league. Imagine that—a Swedish defensemen you need to have your head up for when he is on the ice!

Like most players in the NHL, they were all stars at one point in their lives, but the Swedes can go from being a scorer to being a checker and they'll be elite at their role. Sami Pahlsson comes to mind, as does PJ Axelsson. Whadda ya know—another Canadian-like trait. 

My final reason why I love the Swedes? Well, look no further than the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Led by a Swedish captai—the first European to hoist the Cup wearing a "C"—and guided along by Swedish Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings proved a few things along their journey.

First, that a team with a European captain can win hockey's most coveted prize. Second, that toughness needed to the win the Cup is not shown by who drops the gloves the most, or who lays the most hits—it's mental toughness that wins Cups.

Can you take a glove to the face after a whistle and skate away? Can you "take one for the team?" as they say. Can you suck it up and overcome? This group of Swedes did just that.

Funny—that seems to be the phrases you here the good ol' Canucks spew during the on-ice interviews after any international championship. Boy, the similarities are uncanny.

One final note. Many people ask, what is Detroit's secret to success? Do they have a secret formula? No, I don't think they do. They simply spend a lot of time watching hockey games in Sweden!