STOCKHOLM – Playing in a hockey-mad city like Vancouver, Daniel and Henrik Sedin are accustomed to facing daily pressure. Can these two former NHL scoring champions help Sweden end the infamous “home ice curse” of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship?
The 32-year-old brothers have represented their native land many times before, and they didn’t hesitate when asked to come to Stockholm as late roster additions.
But what makes 2013 particularly intriguing is that this is arguably the first case where the two Vancouver Canucks superstars are unequivocally expected to lead the national team to victory.
Thursday’s 3-2 quarter-final win over an offensively stacked Canadian roster revealed both the beauty and the beast of the Sedins’ game. Their savvy passing led to Tre Kronor’s two power play goals in regulation time. Yet when their names were called during the shootout, neither was able to solve Canadian goalie Mike Smith, leaving Fredrik Pettersson to play the hero for Sweden.
The Sedins’ effectiveness is usually based more on a process of gathering points, simply doing what they do, rather than on stepping up in key moments. Will they step up to get their team past archrival Finland in the semi-finals and go for gold at the Globen?
No host team has won this tournament since the Soviet Union did it in Moscow in 1986. Back then, the red-haired twins were just five years old.
They’ve accomplished a ton of things in the years since with their unique brand of intuitive playmaking.
They made their mark on the NHL record books by becoming the first brothers to win the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring kings. Henrik potted 112 points in 2009-10 and Daniel had 104 the following season. Henrik also got the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2010, and his ironman streak of 629 consecutive regular season games is second only to that of Jay Bouwmeester (635).
Internationally, they chipped in four points apiece in eight games when Tre Kronor marched to gold at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.
But they’ve also faced a ton of criticism – some of it justified, some of it not. The Sedins were ineffective when the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. Daniel recorded a goal and three assists, while Henrik was limited to a single goal. Since then, their club has suffered first-round exits against the Los Angeles Kings (2012) and San Jose Sharks (2013).
The twins also didn’t shine on home ice in the 2010 Olympics, where Sweden exited in the quarter-finals against Slovakia. There were, of course, plenty of other stars who shared responsibility there, such as Nicklas Lidström, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Backström.
So far, the Sedins have only garnered a little hardware from the Worlds: a pair of bronze medals in 1999 and 2001. They’ve come a long way in terms of strength, speed, maturity, and accomplishments since those days.
So coming through in two must-win games against Finland and the winner of the U.S.-Switzerland semi-final would do much to enhance their image as clutch performers. Conversely, allowing themselves to be outmuscled or whiffing on glorious scoring opportunities will not do them any favours.
Swedish fans need something to cheer about – they haven’t won gold at this tournament since 2006, and the sting of losing 6-1 to Finland in the 2011 final remains fresh.
And with due respect to Loui Eriksson and Gabriel Landeskog, this isn’t the deepest or most talented Swedish team we’ve seen at the Worlds in recent years. That makes it all the more urgent for Daniel and Henrik Sedin to outduel the likes of Petri Kontiola and Juhamatti Aaltonen – a mission that they should be capable of accomplishing.