Less than a month earlier, Canada had defeated Sweden 5-3 in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal game in Prague. The Czech Republic had just joined the European Union, along with nine other new member states. Usher’s “Yeah!” was the biggest hit single of the year worldwide and the second Harry Potter movie had just come out.
In other words, the world looks very different than it did when the Lightning edged Calgary 2-1 in that climactic Game Seven. Since then, Hedman, Tampa’s #2 overall pick in 2009 and a two-time World Junior silver medalist, has grown up to be one of the greatest Swedish defencemen in NHL history. The 198-cm, 103-kg veteran also earned gold at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Cologne.
However, the 2018 Norris Trophy winner, who had 55 points in 66 games this season, is still waiting to find out when the NHL will resume this summer. Despite the disruptions to public safety, daily life, and sports that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, Hedman, 29, and his Lightning teammates are eager to quest for redemption.
Last year, the Steven Stamkos-captained club won the Presidents’ Trophy and set a new franchise record with 128 points – incidentally, the same number of points scored by Russia’s Nikita Kucherov, their Art Ross Trophy winner. But then they got swept in four straight first-round games by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Could 2020 be Tampa’s year?
IIHF.com caught up with Hedman by phone from Sweden at the start of June to discuss both his NHL and international exploits.
If everything had gone according to plan for you, you’d be in the Stanley Cup finals right now. Instead, you’re in Sweden. How does that feel?
It’s obviously different, but everyone in the world – not just us hockey players – is in a different place that no one saw coming. So you’ve just got to take it for what it is. Hopefully we come to a solution sooner rather than later. But as of right now, it’s a tough situation for everyone involved.
As a hockey player, you want to play hockey. Right now, as you said, this would be the time of the finals, and if everything had gone the way we wanted it to go, we would be there. It’s tough, but at the same time, you look back and you appreciate what you have. You try to spend as much time as you can with your family during this tough time.
What has that meant for you?
It’s having everyone close: my parents, brothers, nephews, and everything like that. Along with my wife Sanna – we live together in the States as well, of course. And then having your closest friends close by. It’s pretty close to everything back home. So we’re still smart and practicing social distancing and everything like that, but at least you can be outside and spend some time with them.
At a challenging time like this, dogs provide a nice diversion. You’ve been taking care of your French bulldog Harry and a pair of puppies from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Did they come with you to Sweden?
Not the puppies. The puppies are not ours. We had fostered the puppies. But they’re in their forever-homes now. So it was a good time for us to foster two puppies. We had them for three weeks and then they went in and got neutered. And then they went to their forever-homes right after that.
Have you seen any good TV shows lately?
When we’re back home, we mostly watch Swedish TV shows. But other than that, we’re big Homeland fans. We just watched the finale a few weeks ago. So that’s our go-to in North America. Best of all time is Game of Thrones by far. You kind of miss that show, but it was a good ending.
You missed just four games this season. How does your body feel?
Body feels great. You didn’t know if this was going to last or for how long. You kind of got those extra days and your body’s ready to go. Now it’s been...I don’t even know how long it’s been! But my body feels great. I’d be ready to go if it started up today.
You have a strong team in Tampa, and the NHL has announced an interesting new playoff format. In your mind, how important is it for your team to get the top seed in that round-robin against Boston, Washington and Philadelphia?
It would be awesome to get it. We earned that spot last year, obviously, winning the Presidents’ Trophy. That said, you’ve got to perform when it matters the most, and that’s when the playoffs start. It doesn’t matter what seed you have. You’ve got to be ready to go. There are so many good teams in this league. For us, we’ve got to be ready when we start up again. It doesn’t matter who you play. We’re just looking forward to a better playoffs than last time.
In 1996, Detroit set an NHL record with 62 wins – the record you tied last year – but lost to Colorado in the playoffs. In 1997, the Wings won the Stanley Cup with four Swedes, including your childhood idol Nicklas Lidstrom and Anders Eriksson, who played in the Modo system. Have you ever spoken to any of those guys about what it took to go all the way?
Well, not specifically to them, but we’ve got some other good players back home from my hometown that won the Cup, including Sami Pahlsson and obviously Peter Forsberg. So they know what it takes for us to go all the way. I mean, back then, when there was no salary cap, you look at Colorado’s team and how stacked they were. But at the same time, like you said, we have a phenomenal team.
It’s a matter of staying healthy and a little bit of luck. You need that in the playoffs. You need some bounces and some games where your goalie steals a game or whatnot. We have the quality in our group to go all the way. So that’s the main goal for us going forward.
You’ve had four deep playoff runs with the Lightning, including that trip to the 2015 finals. As of right now, what is your favourite playoff memory?
Game Seven of the conference final in [Madison Square Garden] in 2015. To get a shutout – it was 2-0, I think – and advance to the finals, that was an unbelievable moment. You want to have another one of those moments, but one round later! Winning the Stanley Cup. That would be the greatest moment.
Ben Bishop was in goal for that Game Seven shutout, but now you play in front of Andrei Vasilevski, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. How has he changed since he first suited up for the Lightning back in 2014?
Well, his work ethic hasn’t changed. He’s probably the hardest-working guy on our team. He gives us a chance to win every night. He’s such a competitor. It doesn’t matter what game it is. He wants a shutout every time he plays, whether it’s the All-Star Game or whatever. He’s not happy when he doesn’t get one. He also makes those unreal saves look easy.
We’ve been very blessed to have him for a long time, and we’re really blessed to have him for even longer [under contract through 2027-28]. We’re really looking forward to him giving us a chance to win the Cup.
I don’t know if “measuring stick” is the right word. You know, it’s been so long now. And he’s a forward and I’m a D-man, so it’s kind of different roles that we play on our respective teams. He’s had a phenomenal career so far.
He went from Long Island back home to Toronto and became the captain of the Maple Leafs, which I believe was a childhood dream of his. He’s a huge part of that team. He’s a competitor. He plays the game very well and he knows how to score goals. He’s always tough to go up against and play against. It’s a fun challenge every time you play him. Other than that, I’m happy to see we’ve done pretty well, both of us, after being drafted that high.
This year, Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes and Colorado’s Cale Makar became the first defencemen to finish 1-2 in rookie scoring since 1944. Who is your choice for the Calder Trophy?
You know, I was kind of hoping for [Buffalo’s] Victor Olofsson, who’s a fellow Swede from my hometown. But he got hurt. Otherwise, if he didn’t get hurt, I think he would have scored 30-plus goals.
As a D-man, I like the way both [Hughes and Makar] play. But I would probably go for Makar. You can’t go wrong with either one. I think those two guys are going to be in the Norris conversation this year, probably, and for many years to come. So that’s a good measuring stick, too, for me to keep up and keep improving, even though I’m turning 30 soon. When you’ve got those young guns coming up, you want to keep improving!
Turning to your international career, it’s been 10 years since you played your first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship game with Tre Kronor in Mannheim. You beat Norway 5-2. What do you remember about it?
Uh, nothing, probably! [laughs] But you know, for us, it’s always an honour to represent your country. What I remember mostly from that tournament was winning the bronze medal.
I played in Stockholm in 2012 where we lost in the quarter-finals. And then I played in 2017, where we went all the way in Cologne. That’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve had as a hockey player, to win that gold for your country. The reception we got in Sweden when we got back was unbelievable. I’m super-proud of where I’m from, and to represent your country is one of the biggest honours you can have. That ranks right up there with the greatest memories in my hockey career so far.
The biggest goal you’ve scored for Sweden was also one of the strangest. What do you remember opening the scoring shorthanded against Canada at 19:39 of the second period in the 2017 final?
Oh, the heavy backhander from the blue line! It bounced a hundred times before it went in. But you know, I kind of took a chance. I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of time left in the period. Joel Lundqvist did a good job in front of the goalie [Calvin Pickard] and I think Marcus Kruger was also kind of waving his stick at it. Probably fooled the goalie a little bit. The puck had eyes and it went in.
You can still say you scored a goal in a World Championship final. That’s pretty cool. It doesn’t matter how it went in, but it did go in. So to play a little part in winning that gold by scoring in the gold medal game, it was a proud moment.
What would it mean for you to play at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing?
That would be a dream come true. You don’t know how many more chances you’re going to get to represent your country. With the amount of talent we have on the back end as well, we don’t know where we’re going to be, but for us to go to the Olympics means the world to us. So we just hope that everything settles down here and we come to an agreement about going to the Olympics.
If I make the team, you’re going to go all out and try to win that gold. That would be very special for a lot of us who haven’t had the chance to play in the Olympics yet.
What do you think about the fact that Mika Zibanejad went from not making the 2016 World Cup of Hockey team to scoring 41 goals in 57 games for the New York Rangers this year?
Yeah, he’s been a great story this year. Mika’s always had it in him. He’s taken on a very big role in New York. Scoring more than 40 goals, he’d probably hit 50 if the rest of the season didn’t get cancelled. So for him to kind of put that team on his shoulders, he’s got a pretty good line with [Artemi] Panarin. They’ve been dangerous all year, and they’re going to keep being dangerous for a very long time. I’m happy to see Mika do so well.
Zibanejad, Henrik Lundqvist, and Gabriel Landeskog were some of the players who spoke out in support of the Swedish national women’s team during their conflict with the federation last year. What do you think the future holds for Damkronorna?
I think they obviously wanted what was fair for them, and you support that 100 per cent. Obviously the World Championships this year got cancelled, but after they got relegated last year, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would get promoted again right away.
It’s kind of sad for them not to be able to play in that tournament, but there are a lot of good women’s hockey players in Sweden. They deserve what’s fair for them. Hopefully this is all behind us now and they can move forward and have some better terms and better support from the federation.
Let’s hope that more and more kids, more and more girls start playing hockey. That’s what this is for. Hockey is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl. If you want to play hockey, you should start playing hockey. Hopefully the future is very bright for Damkronorna.
At age 34, your brother Oscar just played his twelfth season with Modo. Unfortunately, they didn’t get a chance to return to the SHL for the first time since 2015-16 since the HockeyAllsvenskan season was suspended in mid-March due to the pandemic. How often do you chat with Oscar about your old club?
We stay in touch a lot. Modo’s very close to my heart and very important to my family. We belong in the first league [SHL]. There’s no doubt about it. This year was a great year for them. They had an unbelievable team. Playing against their local rivals, Bjorkloven, in the Allsvenskan finals, that was a phenomenal battle. I think the future is bright.
They lost a lot of high-calibre players to teams in the first league and teams outside of Sweden, as well as the coach [Bjorn Hellkvist]. But I’ve got a lot of respect for their GM and everyone involved with Modo to build another strong team. There’s no doubt in my mind. So let’s hope everything gets resolved with this virus so they can start playing again and get that promotion next year.
You’re under contract with Tampa until 2024-25, when you’ll be 34. Is there a chance you’ll play another season for Modo someday before you hang up your skates?
I don’t know. A lot of Modo fans always ask me that question. But my goal is to play in the NHL for as long as I can. Tampa’s been home for us for over 10 years now. We love it there, and we hope to spend many more great years there. So I don’t know. You never know with your body, how it’s going to feel down the line, if you win the Cup or not. It’s a lot of things that come into play.
For me, I’ve just got to focus on one thing at a time and take it one step at a time. But if there would be one team outside Tampa that I’d love to play for, it would be Modo. We’ll see. As of right now, my full focus is on Tampa.
What message would you like to send to the Lightning fans?
Well, first of all, I’d like to thank them for their patience. We know they’re really itching for hockey again, playoff hockey. It’s probably not going to be the same as any other year, but at the same time, we still feel their support when we’re on the road. And even if there’s no fans in the building, we’re still going to feel their support from back home.
So we just hope to be back sooner rather than later and give them something to be proud of. Hopefully we can bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa again!