VANCOUVER, Canada – The last time Daniel and Henrik Sedin played a meaningful hockey game, they helped Sweden beat Switzerland 5-1 for the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm. Now, they want to build on that.
That victory on May 19 at the Globen Arena ended the infamous “home ice curse.” No host country had won the tournament since the Soviet Union in Moscow in 1986. So it’s no wonder the twin scoring sensations from the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks were feeling pretty blessed.
It was a total turnaround from their club’s inglorious first-round exit in four straight games against the San Jose Sharks.
"It was awesome," Daniel told IIHF.com at Vancouver’s training camp. “It was a great ending. You go from one week where it’s a fiasco and you’re so down on yourself, and the next week, you’re winning something – winning for your country in your own country too."
"It made it so easy to get back to working out in the summertime. You get energized. It was nice winning the last game of the season. It’s been a while since we did that."
Now, the Sedins hope even bigger and better things are to come, on both the NHL and international stages.
The Örnsköldsvik-born brothers turn 33 on September 26. They’ve both already won NHL scoring titles (Henrik with 112 points in 2010 and Daniel with 104 in 2011), and they were on the Tre Kronor squad that claimed gold in Turin in 2006. But they’re still one step away from joining the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club because they haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet.
They came heartbreakingly close in 2011 when the Canucks lost 4-0 to the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final. Since then, many issues have hindered Vancouver’s dreams of winning its first Cup since entering the NHL in 1970.
The Sedins have fallen off their previous 100-points-a-season pace, Ryan Kesler has had injury problems, and the ongoing soap opera over Olympic gold medal-winning netminder Roberto Luongo’s place between the pipe has also been an issue.
"I think you always try to process what happened and think about the things you could have done differently," said Daniel. "Our last two playoff exits have been so disappointing. We know we have the team to go a long way. That’s why it sucks losing out so early."
"We know it’s always tough in the playoffs and anything can happen, but it feels like, I don’t want to say ‘frittered it away,’ but we didn’ t play our best and that’s disappointing."
Win or lose this season, it won’t be for lack of preparation. New Vancouver head coach John Tortorella, who won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, implemented a taskmaster’s regimen at this year’s training camp, forcing the players to push harder. In a timed two-mile run, the Sedins were the only players who finished in under 12 minutes besides journeyman Mike Santorelli.
Their conditioning and attention to detail in all areas doesn’t go unnoticed, whether that’s by longtime teammates or kids like Bo Horvat. Acquired with New Jersey’s first-round pick (ninth overall) this year in the draft-day deal that sent goalie Cory Schneider to the Devils, the 18-year-old London Knights centre is making his NHL training camp debut.
"[The Sedins] are the guys who always win all the fitness testing," said Horvat. "They’re always working real hard, on and off the ice. Their playmaking ability, the way they find each other on the ice, and their smarts are just unbelievable to watch. It’s something I’ve really picked up on since I’ve been here."
Another young player, Zack Kassian, was supposed to strut his stuff on right wing with the Sedins early in 2013-14. The 22-year-old power forward also saw time with them last year, but after he scored five goals in his first seven games, his production dried up and he fell down the depth chart. The former Buffalo Sabre’s maturity was also questioned as he was sent to the minors briefly due to off-ice issues.
While Kassian needs to use his burly physique to succeed, he must also show good discipline. He crossed the line at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo when he was suspended for two games for a hit on Czech blueliner Petr Senkerik. And he did it again when he swung his stick and broke the jaw of Oilers forward Sam Gagner in a 5-2 exhibition loss to Edmonton on September 21. That cost the former OHL star an eight-game suspension (three pre-season, five regular season).
So replacing savvy pest Alexandre Burrows with Kassian on the top line isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight.
"If our team will be better with us playing with Zack, we’ll do that," said Daniel. "We’ll play with anyone as long as our team will win games and be successful. That’s the one thing with us. I don’t care who we play with, if we score 80 points or 60 points.
"Zack can be a powerful player out there. I think he has to realize that. We’re going to have to talk to him a lot and be on him and push him. I think he wants that too. It’s going to be interesting."
Regardless of which winger he shares with Henrik, Daniel knows he must at least approximate his 41-goal campaign of 2010-11 if the Canucks are to make another Cup run. He fell to 30 in 2011-12 and had just 12 goals in last year’s lockout-shortened season.
"On our line, I am the goal-scorer," said Daniel. "It’s up to me to get better. I’ve always been a goal-scorer. I might not have the great shot that [Kesler] has, but I think I’m pretty good at getting in positions to score and to get to those rebounds.
"That hasn’t been there the last two years. I’ve been trying, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. You have to try to get back on the right foot. Focus in practice. Try to score on every drill. That’s where it’s going to pay off in games."
Daniel estimated that since he scores on close to 14 percent of his shots, taking between three and four shots per game should put him right back in 40-goal territory.
If he’s firing on all cylinders when Sweden kicks off the Olympic hockey tournament versus the Czech Republic in Sochi, Russia on February 12, that will be great news for Tre Kronor head coach Pär Mårts.
The Sedins were pieces of the puzzle when Bengt-Åke Gustafsson coached Sweden to gold in 2006, chipping in four points apiece. But they were overshadowed by veteran leaders like Nicklas Lidström, Mats Sundin, and Daniel Alfredsson.
In Sochi, though, the Sedins have to be prime-time contributors, or Swedish hopes of repeating the golden glories of Lillehammer and Turin will dwindle drastically.
Looking ahead to Sochi, what lessons can the Swedish national team apply from its victory at the World Championship?
"I think what made us so successful [in Stockholm] was that every player had a role on the team and executed it 100 percent," said Daniel. "That was the one thing we were maybe missing the last time around [in 2010]. We had four lines rolling pretty much, and no one really had a role. I think that’s going to be key coming up in February."
"We’re going to have to have two lines playing a lot, playing the power play, and the other two lines playing a lesser role. But that’s always been the strength of Swedes, I think. They’re able to take their role and execute it 100 percent."
Still healthy and hungry, the Sedins could be delighting fans in both Vancouver and Sweden into their late 30’s if all goes well.