NHL

Red Wings drawing attention of Swedish fans

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The Canadian Press
5/21/2008 7:28:37 PM
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DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings would be in rough shape without Sweden.

In fact, their general manager insisted the Western Conference champions would've been knocked out of the post-season long ago - if they even made it - without their seven Swedes.

Thanks to Nicklas Lidstrom and several countrymen, Detroit is set to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup final at home in Game 1 on Saturday night.

"It's a big deal back home," Lidstrom said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "They call us the Swedish NHL team because there's so many of us.

"As we get deeper in the playoffs, more people are staying up late and going to work after watching us play."

Sweden is six hours ahead of Michigan's Eastern Daylight Time.

Lidstrom has been around for years and he has steadily been joined by players from back home in Detroit. He was drafted by the Red Wings in the third round two decades ago and made his debut during the 1991-92 season.

Tomas Holmstrom, drafted 257th overall, was a rookie when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and helped them win another title the next year and in 2002.

"It's been amazing how the team exploded with Swedes," Holmstrom said.

The Red Wings landed a star and perhaps a future one in back-to-back years, drafting forward Henrik Zetterberg 210th overall in 1999 and defenceman Niklas Kronwall with the 29th pick the next year.

Centre Johan Franzen, a third-round pick in 2004, joined the Red Wings three years ago after the lockout as did forward Mikael Samuelsson and defenceman Andreas Lilja as free agents.

"Somebody has the inside track on the Swedes because the Red Wings keep finding these guys late in the draft," teammate Chris Chelios said. "It can't be a fluke."

The Red Wings are thankful to have Hakan Anderson, their director of European scouting, evaluating talent in Sweden to stock their roster.

"Hakan deserves most of the credit without a doubt," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "But other people have chipped in with a team effort to scout Sweden."

Where would the Red Wings be without the Swedes?

"Probably not in the playoffs," Holland said. "If we did even make the playoffs, we would've been eliminated a long time ago.

"Nick and Hank are two of the best players in the world. Homer is the best at what he does in front of the net. Franzen has scored 12 goals in the playoffs. Kronwall is one of the top young defenceman in the league."

Those five players helped Sweden win gold two years ago at the Olympics.

Lidstrom - whose slap shot lifted his country to a 3-2 win over Finland - has a chance to add to his fame. He will be the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup, if Detroit gets past Pittsburgh, and will break a tie with Ray Bourque if he wins a sixth Norris Trophy as expected this summer.

"Nick is getting more and more attention after not getting the credit he deserves back home," Franzen said. "He's never got the headlines until after the Olympics, when he opened the Swede's eyes.

"Hank is a bigger target of the media because of his girlfriend. They're the Swedish version of Beckham and Posh."

Zetterberg laughed at the comparison to David and Victoria Beckham, saying he and Emma Andersson are much more low key.

"We don't get followed like crazy here or back home," Zetterberg said. "But she's had her own TV show, so she's known in public, too."

Zetterberg's game also draws attention.

His 21 points in the playoffs tie him for the league lead with Sidney Crosby.

Franzen leads the NHL in goals this post-season despite missing the previous five games with concussion-like symptoms.

Kronwall shatters the myth about soft Europeans, delivering spectacular hits in open ice, and has contributed 12 post-season points.

Samuelsson has nine points, ranking ninth on the team - behind five Swedes. Lilja has played in six of Detroit's 16 playoff games, adding grit on the blue line.

Two more Swedes, Mattias Ritola and Jonathan Ericsson, haven't played in the playoffs for the Red Wings.

"Being here together with all the Swedes is nice and unique," Zetterberg said. "We know we won't be together forever, so we're enjoying it while it lasts."

The Swedish Red Wings say their nationality is irrelevant on the ice and in the dressing room, but acknowledge their bond away from Joe Louis Arena.

All of them live in a Detroit suburb, Novi, other than Zetterberg, who lives about 30 kilometres away in Bloomfield Hills.

"It's great for our families, especially our wives and girlfriends when we're on the road," Lilja said. "Our kids speak English at school, and Swedish at home. Sometimes they mix the two languages sometimes and we call that Swenglish.

"We live so close to each other. I'm a sand wedge away from Samuelsson's yard and the rest the guys - other than Hank - are a two-minute drive away."

Yes, Zetterberg hears about that.

"Well, you know, Hank is a star," Lilja joked, putting his fingers in the air to make quote marks. "He can't live with us in Novi."

Zetterberg, standing nearby, had a rebuttal.

"When I got here, it was only Nick and Homer and I thought they were too old," the 27-year-old Zetterberg said. "So, I lived where the younger guys did."

One of the youngest Swedes in the Detroit area, four-year-old Isak Holmstrom, recently went to a home game sporting a miniature version of his father's No. 96 jersey with his mother.

"It's wonderful to have all the Swedes here in Detroit," Annelie Holmstrom said. "We're like one, big happy family."

Nicklas Lidstrom (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
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