The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/29/12 at 08:52 AM ET
Updated with some Team USA chatter, in English, at 8 AM: He won’t be playing for Sweden when the Swedes face off against Team USA on Tuesday, at least according to Aftonbladet’s Mats Wennerholm, but before embarking on a transatlantic flight with Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg gave the equivalent of a sit-down interview to Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman. What follows is a “quick and dirty” translation of the interview:
Zetterberg, “Is psyched up”
New York. Henrik Zetterberg is coming.
Today, the 31-year-old Detroit star will board a jumbo jet to fly home to Sweden and join the most star-studded World Championship team in decades.
And he’s bringing dreams of gold with him.
“You want it to be like when Fredrik Modin came back with his gold medal and we gathered around the barbecue pit in Njurunda to watch, says “Zata” in a long interview with Sportbladet, about his first World Championship in six years.
He took part in and completed the classic Double Gold with the Tre Kronor back in 2006.
Since then, however, Henrik Zetterberg hasn’t had the opportunity to play at the World Championship—usually because the Detroit Red Wings tend to persist long into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
His long absence is one of the reasons for the enthusiasm found in Zetterberg’s heart when he was preparing to board a plane for Stockholm.
“Yes, that was a long time ago, so it will be really fun to play in the World Championship tournament again, especially since we’ll be playing at home. I’m definitely psyched,” he says.
And do you believe you can win gold?
“Of course that’s the goal. It’s not easy to get there—there are six or seven teams that can win. But we definitely have a chance, and it looks like we just have to build a really great team. It’s great that there are so many here ready to do their part, even though it’s been a long and difficult season.
Things went well for you previously, you’ve won one gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
“Yes, I’ve had the good luck to play when many great players were available at the same time, so we had a realy hard-hitting team.”
What’s your best World Championship memory?
“Of course, when we won gold in 2006, a few months after winning the Olympic gold. It was fantastic to be involved in the double [feat]. But I have strong memories even of the tournament that was in Gothenburg for…Well, what, that was eleven years ago, or something? (It was ten years ago) Oh my God, eleven years. It was a very special tournament, just because it was played on home ice.”
Which pro players were playing there?
“Um, I don’t really remember. What I remember the most is that my roommate was Stefan Liv.”
For a younger player, I’d imagine that it was instructive to play with pros who came home from the NHL.
“Absolutely. Hockey life over here is very different, so it was useful to see how those kinds of players prepared themselves and acted before games. In 2003 both “Foppa” and Mats Sundin played with us, it was really awesome to play with them.”
Each World Championship was a big deal when you were little, too?
“Of course. It was all we could see in terms of international hockey at the time. We couldn’t watch the NHL like they do today, so the weeks around the World Championship were like a hockey feast.”
And what are your greatest memories of that?
“There were a few golds here and there in the 90’s, and when they won gold in 1998 it made a strong impression. That was with Fredrik Modin. I remember he got a stick blade in the eye, we were a little worried about him at home in Njurunda, and when it turned out that it wasn’t that bad the whole community let out a deep breath. Then we gathered around the barbecue pit for a look when he came home with the gold medal. So that’s where I’d like to be again, ha ha.”
Now you’re only represented by Erik Gustafsson in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Flyers defenseman is from Njurunda.
Right. He’s a tremendously talented defenseman, he’s going to have a long career in the NHL.
You’re going to play on the big ice for the first time in six years now. Is it going to be difficult?
“Well, there’s clearly an adjustment. I think it’s much harder to go from the small rink to the big rink. When I came here and started playing on smaller ice, I thought it was almost easier.”
“No time to adapt”
Why’s it so hard?
“The surface area, it’s so much bigger. It’s hard especially when you’re playing defense, and forwards have more time and space. But there’s an adjustment offensively as wel, especially if you shoot like me, where I have to almost be down below the faceoff circles, to get my shots to hit the mark, ha ha. Because of that it’s really great that we get to come in so early this year and be involved from the start. Then we can hopefully adapt before the serious business begins.”
You were eliminated from the playoffs in Detroit, but you looked really great in the five games you played.
“Yeah, I felt good ever since the end of the regular season. I felt refreshed body-wise, and now that we’re coming [to Sweden], I practiced at home at ‘the Joe’ over the last few days as well. That’s another reason why I felt I wanted to go home and play in the World Championship this year.”
What’s the reason that you hit your top form just in time for the playoffs?
“I don’t know, I might be spoiled. It’s in the playoffs that it becomes really fun. You can ask anyone here, everyone thinks that it’s it’s more inspiring to play playoff games here than, say, game 19 in the regular season.”
What do you say, looking back, about the situation when Nashville defenseman Shea Weber pounded your head into the plexiglass after the final whistle in the first game?
“I still think that it was dirty, and that he should have been suspended. But it’s not much to think about now, it didn’t happen, and we didn’t win the series in any case.”
Are you and Emma returning home to Sweden for the summer now with the World Cup [happening]?
“We haven’t decided yet, we’ve already packed and gotten ready, but we’ll see whether we need to go back [to Detroit] and tidy things up after the World Championship.”
But then you’ll stay in Sweden for the summer?
“Yes, we’ll be up in Sundsvall and then down in Angelholm [where Emma’s family lives], as usual. It’ll be nice to come home and relax and visit with my friends and family.”
“Nothing to report”
Does that mean that you’re going to move back here when your hockey career is over?
“Hopefully it’ll take another nine seasons before I have to think about it. Then I guess I’ll know better how I feel, but right now the plan is to move back home, yes.”
Moreover, there’s no small Zetterberg in the works?
“No, ha ha, I have nothing like that to report.”
But when “Foppa,” “Sudden” and henrik Lundqvist all have children, we’ll need your help to complete a future hockey family.
“Ha ha, yes, we’ll see what we can do. But right now there isn’t anything going on.”
Update: Gah, finding a lengthy Swedish interview with a Wing at 6:30 is annoying, and so is MLive’s decision to not publish off-season articles till 7 AM. Keeps me up all night. Anyway, MLive’s Brendan Savage provides an alternate perspective from Team USA participants Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader:
“I’m real excited for this opportunity and the opportunity to represent my country is pretty neat,” Abdelkader said. “Any time you can play for your country, represent your country, it’s a big honor and I’m excited about the opportunity. Having a teammate with you should be exciting so we can share the experience together.”
Abdelkader, 25, last represented the United States in the 2006 World Junior Championships. That tournament was also held in Sweden.
The Muskegon native was invited to play in this year’s World Championships after recording eight goals and 14 assists in 81 regular-season games. This season marked his second full campaign in the NHL although he did split 2009-10 between Detroit and Grand Rapids. During the five-game playoff last to Nashville, Abdelkader was held scoreless and had a minus-5 rating.
Abdelkader is among a dozen forwards on the Team USA roster while Howard is one of three goalies. The others are Dallas Stars’ backup Richard Bachman and John Curry of the Hamburg Freezers.
“I’m looking forward to that, playing for my country,” said Howard, who was leading the NHL in victories when he broke his finger in February. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that so I’m looking forward to going over to Finland and playing. It will be nice to be able to travel with somebody (like Abdelkader). It’s not fun to be stuck on the plane all by yourself.”
However, as the birthday boy says about the Wings’ ten World Championship participants:
“When I said I’m not crazy about them playing (it’s because) I’d rather be playing,” [Wings coach Mike] Babcock said. “If you play long enough (in the NHL playoffs), they can’t go. That’s usually the plan.”
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