STOCKHOLM – Henrik Zetterberg had two goals and an assist during Detroit’s first-round loss to the Nashville Predators. But he made headlines for having his head smashed into the glass by Predators captain Shea Weber. The legendary 31-year-old Swedish forward wants something better at the IIHF World Championship.
“Zee,” a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club, is considered one of hockey’s headiest players. A classic example was his outdueling of Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby in the 2008 Stanley Cup final. Zetterberg famously tied up Crosby’s stick during a key 5-on-3 penalty kill in Game Four, and scored the game-winner in Game Six en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy.
In IIHF play, the three-time Olympian enjoyed his greatest success in 2006. He suited up for both the Olympic gold medal team in Turin, Italy and the World Championship squad that prevailed in Riga, Latvia a couple of months later. Zetterberg also owns World Championship bronze (2001, 2002) and silver (2003) medals.
On Thursday morning, IIHF.com’s Lucas Aykroyd caught up with the bearded nine-year NHL veteran, mobbed by the Swedish media after practising at Stockholm’s Globe Arena.
Are you having fun so far? Everyone here seems pretty excited to see you.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s great to be back home and play for Team Sweden. Hopefully we can get a nicer ending here than we did in Detroit.
You’ve worn the Tre Kronor jersey many times, but it’s been six years since you last appeared at the IIHF World Championship. What made you decide to play this year?
Well, I think when we lost out in the playoffs like we did, really early, I felt healthy and really hungry to play more hockey. I always knew that the World Championship was here in Stockholm. So I took a few days [after Detroit was eliminated], and then made a call and asked if I could come.
In 2006, you were part of the national team that won the historic, first-ever “double gold” in Riga. What were the keys to your success there?
We played really good hockey. I think it all slowly was building up to a good tournament. I don’t think we had a great tournament all the way. But when it mattered most in the end, everything clicked. We had a good power play, good PK, and good goaltending. If you have those three key things, you’re going to do well in the tournament.
It’s not just Swedish Wings who are here this year. Pavel Datsyuk is playing for Russia. Are you going to have fun going head-to-head with him on May 11 as opposed to being his buddy?
Yeah, absolutely. We actually skated together a little bit at the Joe [Louis Arena in Detroit] before we got over here. We had little competitions that started already. It was a little tougher for him then because we had four guys from Sweden [from Detroit] and he was the only Russian. I’m pretty sure he’ll be motivated to get something back here.
How about getting to play with Erik Karlsson? What are your impressions of him?
It’s going to be fun. I’ve mostly just seen him on TV this year. We played against Ottawa once. He had an amazing year, just the way he plays, skates, and really moves all over the rink. He won the points race for defencemen by 20 points or something. It’s pretty remarkable to do that. Having him here as a teammate is going to lift our team to another level.
It seems like Swedes in the NHL are generally prospering. There are nearly 70 in the league. Most of the top ones stayed in Sweden before making the leap to the NHL, as opposed to, say, playing Canadian major junior. Do you think there are benefits to staying home?
I think so. We have a good enough league here if you get the opportunity to play here. For me, I played with my club team [Timrå] all the way until I was 21, before I took the step over [to the NHL]. When I stayed that long, I had the chance to play in two World Championships and one Olympics before I went over to Detroit, and I think that helped me a lot.
There’s a kid with Timrå, Max Friberg, who played exceptionally well for Sweden at the World Juniors in Calgary – the first time Sweden’s won the title since 1981. Have you had a chance to check him out?
Yeah, we skated together with Timrå before I went over to Detroit for the season. So I saw him there. Great guy, and really good work ethic. He’s going to have a good future.
You’ll need a good work ethic in your opener against Norway on Friday. Last year, Norway opened with a 5-4 shootout win over Sweden in Kosice, the first time they’d beaten Tre Kronor in almost 50 years. What do you need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
I think we just need to go out and play our game. Take charge from the start and get the momentum. If we do that, we will have a good chance of getting a win.
Throughout the year with Detroit, you get to play for one of the best coaches in the business in Mike Babcock. What are the differences between his approach and that of Pär Mårts?
I think we’re playing a bit more aggressively [with Sweden]. We don’t hold back anything – we can just go. That might be the biggest difference. In Detroit, maybe we’re thinking a little bit more defence than we do here. We’re allowed to do mistakes and still keep on playing.
That’s a big change from how Swedish hockey used to be – very conservative and defensive. Do you like getting that kind of freedom?
Yeah. It’s going to be fun to play with freedom, especially when you’re coming from where we’re coming, playing in the NHL. It’s different. It’s going to be fun to just let go.
Is it hard to get used to the big ice again for you, or is that overblown?
I think it’s tougher to go to the big rink than to go to the small rink. It takes a few days, but it’s good we’ve had a chance to practice here. This is my fourth practice, so it helps a lot.
How much of a factor is the pressure of being the host team here in Sweden going to be?
I think you always have pressure. We don’t [feel] pressure, but pressure’s good too. If you don’t have pressure, you won’t play well. It’s part of the game. We’re just going to enjoy it and embrace it and go out and have fun in the Globe.