BRATISLAVA – If you plan to visit the 2008 IIHF World InLine Championship, watch out. You may see a future hockey superstar. Who thought in 2002 in Nuremberg that the guy who tended Sweden’s goal was a future NHLer and an Olympic gold medallist? His name was Henrik Lundqvist.
In July 2002, only Swedish hockey freaks, fans of Frolunda Indians (Gothenburg) and some NHL scouts knew about Henrik Lundqvist, 20 years old at that time.
But that summer, in the German cities of Nuremberg and Pfaffenhofen, Lundqvist led the InLine version of Tre Kronor to the gold medal. Sweden lost only one game during the event, but they avenged the second-round loss to Finland by beating the same team in the gold medal game 6-5.
Although Lundqvist was one of the main reasons why Sweden won gold, he was not named as the event’s Best Goaltender. An American by the name of Jeff Raynaert was.
Three years later, Henrik Lundqvist signed with the New York Rangers and midway through his first NHL season, he led Sweden to the next gold medal. But this time it was an Olympic gold in Turin, Italy.
This past season, Lundqvist was one of the NHL’s three best goaltenders, being nominated for the Vezina Trophy, together with Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov.
This year in Bratislava, Sweden continues to use players, who are stars in the Swedish Elitserien. 21-year-old Dick Axelsson is one of the most promising Swedish forwards, having scored 12 goals and 13 assists for Djurgarden Stockholm this past season.
Axelsson’s game was so impressive that he was signed by Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings after this season. In order to let him develop without stress, the Wings loaned him back to Djurgarden for the 2008-09 season.
Another “real” hockey player on the Swedish InLine team is forward Linus Klasen, 22, who had 14 goals and 20 assists for Sodertalje SK in the Elitserien.
It will be interesting to see whether Axelsson and Klasen will be as comfortable scoring in the InLine World Championship as they are in the Swedish pro league.