VANCOUVER – Before this season, almost everyone assumed Roberto Luongo would be the most noteworthy Vancouver Canuck heading into the Olympics. But Henrik Sedin's play has changed that scenario.
It's not as if “King Louie” is having a poor season: in fact, the acclaimed Canadian goalie is on pace for his traditional 2.30 GAA, .920 save percentage and six shutouts. Yet while Luongo will likely wind up backing up Martin Brodeur for the second straight Olympics, Henrik is threatening to become the first Canuck ever to win the NHL scoring title, with the help of his twin brother and linemate Daniel.
To the delight of both Canucks fans and Tre Kronor supporters, that's put him front and centre in the 2010 Olympic host city. Dreams run wild: with offensive firepower like this, could Vancouver become the first city ever to celebrate Olympic hockey gold and a Stanley Cup -- all in one year?
The red-haired 29-year-old centre from Ornskoldsvik has elevated his game beyond what most observers once believed possible. In the post-lockout era, up until now, Henrik had always been roughly a point-per-game producer, mostly assists. He liked passing so much that you'd think he grew up with posters of Adam Oates all over his bedroom walls.
But when Daniel, always the left-wing sniper, was sidelined with a broken foot for 18 games earlier this season, Henrik began to shoot the puck more as he adjusted to different linemates. That pattern persisted even when Daniel returned to the lineup. During a three-point game against Chicago on January 23, Henrik shattered his old career high in goals (22). He and Daniel have kept on rolling as the NHL's hottest duo on a points-per-game basis recently.
In reality, all Henrik's done is quietly achieve the goal he sets for himself every year: to get a little better. In overall NHL scoring, he finished 41st in 2005-06, 26th in 2006-07, 24th in 2007-08, 15th in 2008-09...get the picture? No wonder he's on pace to surpass 100 points for the first time.
So if Sweden, say, gets a 5-on-3 versus Germany in its opener on February 17, it seems pretty safe to assume that the twins will hop over the boards to work some of their cycle-based playmaking magic on the top power play unit. They'll surely have a bigger role than they did in their Olympic debut four years ago.
Characteristically, Henrik plays down such speculation in conversation with IIHF.com: “We have a lot of good offensive players. We'll have to wait and see who gets the most power play time. There's Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Loui Eriksson, and so on. That's part of the Olympics. You've got to accept the role you get and do the best you can with it. That's what we did in Turin.”
Although Sweden's announced roster includes 13 players that won Olympic gold in 2006, there are some notable missing faces, including former national team mainstays like Kenny Jönsson (named Best Defenceman in Turin) and longtime captain Mats Sundin. Besides in Turin, Henrik also suited up alongside Sundin, the highest-scoring Swedish NHLer ever, at the 2001 IIHF World Championship and with the Canucks last year in the 38-year-old's last hurrah. Even with veterans like Nicklas Lidström to show the way, there's a feeling of transition with Team Sweden.
“It'll be a change to not have Mats, for sure,” admits Henrik. “He was a great leader. He brought a calmness to the dressing room before the games. But we've got a lot of young guys who have played over here for a couple of years. They know what it's about. They've played in pressure situations. Leadership shouldn't be a problem.”
It's hard to believe the Sedins are in their ninth NHL campaign and poised to turn 30 in September. It seems like just yesterday that people were second-guessing former Canucks GM Brian Burke for selecting them with the #2 and #3 overall picks in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Now, few question their talent and resolve. They're eminently comfortable answering challenges and questions, both on and off the ice.
Who are some of the Tre Kronor players that Henrik idolized when he was growing up? “I remember [Swedish head coach] Bengt-Ake Gustafsson playing in 1987 when Sweden won the World Championship. Other than that, for sure Peter Forsberg. Thomas Rundqvist was another great player.”
Who's tougher to score on, Roberto Luongo or Swedish starter Henrik Lundqvist? “We don't play Lundqvist that often, so it's not easy to say. Head to head, they're pretty even, I think.”
What kind of emotions stand out in terms of playing the Olympics in Vancouver at Canada Hockey Place (aka GM Place)? “It's exciting, for sure. To play in your home rink for your country, it's going to be a lot of fun. We're going to try to enjoy it.”
Which family members are coming to Vancouver to watch them at the Games? “Our mom and dad are coming in. Our two brothers will be watching from home. They were here over Christmas, and they'll be here for the NHL playoffs. The Olympic timing wasn't right for them.”
And have the Sedins been practicing singing the Swedish national anthem, “Du Gamla, Du Fria”? “We know it from before, so that's not a big deal,” says Henrik with a laugh. “We worked hard at it in Turin!”