VANCOUVER – Loui Eriksson isn't the biggest name on the Swedish Olympic roster, but he might have the most unusual name.
Lars, Lennart, and Lasse are traditional names for Swedish men. But Loui?
“He was virtually unknown when he left, and most hockey fans in Sweden don’t know much about him,” said one longtime hockey writer from Eriksson's native Gothenburg. “He was a surprise pick for the Olympic team, even though he's scored more than 160 points in just over 260 NHL games.”
In any case, this Dallas Stars winger is making a name for himself. Currently, he's Sweden's third-highest scoring NHLer, trailing only Henrik Sedin and Nicklas Bäckström, and has a good shot at equaling or surpassing the career-best 36 goals he tallied in his 2008-09 breakout campaign.
His philosophy on how to fill the net is, frankly, more Phil Esposito than Kent Nilsson. He's well-suited to the smaller North American rink.
“This is my fifth year in North America, and I feel good out there,” Eriksson told IIHF.com. “I'm always trying to find a spot in front of the net, and it's going really well so far. I'm going to keep doing that. When you play with good linemates, too, they're going to find you, and that's what Richie [Brad Richards] is doing.”
Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and a 2006 Olympian, didn't crack Steve Yzerman's Canadian roster, despite ranking among the top 10 overall NHL scorers recently. Eriksson commented: “It's a tough blow for Richie, but at the same time, there are a lot of good Canadian players who aren't going to play in the Olympics.”
The dark-haired, soft-spoken 24-year-old, who was named the 2005 Elitserien rookie of the year with Frölunda Gothenburg, is thrilled to be hooking up with his compatriots in Vancouver. Expectations are high as Sweden aims to defend its Olympic title from Turin 2006 with 13 returnees, plus offensive-minded newcomers who fly under the radar like Eriksson, Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist, and Atlanta defenceman Tobias Enström.
“We've got a really good group with a lot of skill, and a lot of guys who play in the NHL,” said Eriksson. “Playing on the small rink, that will be good for us. We have a fast team. I'm looking forward to the Olympics.”
Some journalists have speculated that Tre Kronor head coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson might place the 185-cm, 86-kg left-shooting forward on a line with the Sedin twins. They're currently the NHL's hottest duo, producing about 1.4 points per game.
Like current Sedin linemate Alexandre Burrows, Eriksson doesn't hesitate to go to the dirty areas with his stick on the ice. Unlike Burrows, Eriksson isn't a big talker, and wouldn't preemptively book himself a spot with the twins.
“I know those guys played with Mattias Weinhandl in the Swedish Elitserien,” noted Eriksson. “They're really good in the offensive zone. They cycle the puck and find each other so well. I think they make whoever plays with them better.”
Dallas head coach Marc Crawford, who guided Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, has similar words of praise for Eriksson.
"He's just such a grounded player who is very detailed and very methodical," Crawford said. "What he has done is take the talent he has and worked very hard, and it's paying off for him. He's a complementary player in that he can play with just about anybody. He can play on a top line or a checking line. He can play on the power play or kill penalties. [The Olympics] will be great for him.”
So it's a question of just what role Eriksson will fill in his second national team stint under Gustafsson. The previous time was at the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland, where Eriksson recorded three goals and four assists as Sweden won bronze.
“Gustafsson played hockey as well when he was younger, and he knows how the game works,” Eriksson said of the Swedish hockey legend, who'll be replaced by U20 bench boss Pär Mårts after the 2010 Worlds in Germany. “Obviously he's done a good job in his time with the national team.”
And while Eriksson goes about increasing his own fame on the international stage, really, what's the story behind that unusual first name?
“I have two brothers and one sister whose names start with 'L' too. So my parents thought it would be a nice name, and that's it.”